In this article Nadja Braun shares her personal experience and tips on how to get by in Spain without properly speaking the language.


Deciding to Move to Spain

After my graduation from university few years back I jumped into the adventure: I moved to Spain for some time without speaking any word of Spanish. Well, just few words that I have picked up from holiday trips and other people, but nothing really considerable. Main reason to move to Spain was the curiosity of learning a foreign language and getting to know this interesting culture.

There are lots of spanish courses in Spain available to book throughout Spain and to get started, I attended a beginner’s level language course at a local language school in Valencia. Sounds easy, however the challenge starts when you need to get by on your own and talk to local people that don’t even understand a word of English.

In this article I want to tell a little bit about my personal experience, my challenges and enrichments in this time. Moreover, I want to give a few tips on how to get by in a country without speaking the language.


1. Most People are Nice and Will Try to Help You

To begin with I want to point out, that no matter what people say or advice you, it is actually possible to live in a country where you don’t speak the language. It all is a matter of your personality, attitude and confidence.

If you are open-minded, willing to get into the language and trying to understand people in this culture, you have good requirements to get by easily. Even though people are not speaking a lot of English in Valencia and most parts of the smaller cities and areas in Spain, people are just happy if you try to speak their language.

I always tried to put myself into their shoes: “How would you react and feel, if somebody doesn’t speak a lot of your language, but at least is trying to say few words?” I would be happy too and help that person to get by and find words. From my experience in Spain it is also a sign of respect to speak Spanish to the people.

Valencia City Centre
(City centre of Valencia)


2. It is Frustrating at Times

Sometimes it can get really frustrating because you are not able to say what you really want to say or what you think. It is not possible to have deep conversations and to give people an inside of your real personality. So this pretty much means that your conversations will be mostly about superficial and small talk topics. This can be tiring at times as it is tough to build up relationships. So it can happen that you feel a bit lonely sometimes.

When I lived in Valencia, I moved into a shared apartment with 5 other people from all over the world (e.g. Argentina, Italy and France). At the beginning I thought “how great!” But when I actually got to know my flat mates, I realized that they all just speak Spanish and not even a word in English. It was really tough to get in touch while the others were having fun and deep conversations in Spanish. So I ended up avoiding them in the flat or the kitchen, cooked when nobody was around or just stayed in my room. I felt so embarrassed.

Here is a personal tip:

It takes a lot of effort to communicate in a foreign language. Having said this I just want to encourage you to be open, brave and don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Nobody will blame you and the more you’ll try, the more you get out of it. How can people get to know you when you avoid talking to them? And how can you improve your language skills and overcome your embarrassment if you are not trying? This experience is just brilliant.

Turia Park
(Turia Park)


3. Find One Person That Can Help You

At least for the beginning it is a blessing to have somebody to help you. It can be a local person that you can easily communicate with in your own language or in English (in case you speak English) and who speaks Spanish of course.

So you have somebody who knows the place and people, can show you around, help you with basic daily things like shopping, banking, appartment etc. You may now think “where can I find this person?”. To answer this question I want to share my own experiences and give a few inspirations.

I was actually quite lucky in the beginning because I went to a local language school in Valencia, where a lot of people spoke English as well and could help me with a lot of important organisational things. Even though this was very helpfull, I realised that this is not enough as I needed somebody to help me with daily live things as well and of course for improving my language skills outside the school.

So I was thinking how I can find such a person. I had the idea to find a “tandem partner”, somebody who can help me with Spanish and all the daily things while I can help this person to improve German. This is actually very common and one of the most effective ways to learn a language.

On the internet there are a lot of groups on facebook or other platforms especially for finding a tandem partner. I found out that there is a language exchange café in Valencia where people from all over the world meet to exchange their languages. So I went there and met this guy who was native Spanish and wanted to improve his German.

So every week we met in this café and exchanged our languages, information and so on. This was really really helpful. His German was even better than my Spanish. Here I was also very lucky to found another person from Switzerland who lived in Valencia and spoke both German and Spanish. So I had two people helping me with the language skills and daily basic things.

So from this experience I can definetly say that a good supportive network helped me a lot to get by in Valencia. Better than I thought actually.


4. Google Translator is Your Best Friend

Since there is not always somebody helping you out and you will be confronted with tricky situation as well, it is always a great method to use google translator.

For me it was actually my best friend and I always made sure that I have my mobil in my pocket. In many different situations it really saved me from missunderstandings. I rememeber this one situation where a friend of mine from Germany came to visit me in Valencia and had some serious health issues. So we needed to see a doctor in the hospital.

As nobody spoke English, we ended up using google translator to communicate and talk about the symptoms of my friends. This was really exhausting but at the same time also funny as we actually got what we needed at the end. A lot of things happened also non-verbal without any word, just through demonstracting and body language.


Hopefully my tips will give you the confidence to visit or move to Spain even if you aren't fluent in the language. Do you have any experience of visiting Spain? Let me know in the comments section below.  

By Nadja Braun