Studying Abroad in Spain: No Spanish Required

by Briana Aragon

Have you thought about studying abroad in Spain, but don’t speak Spanish? Spain is one of the most popular study abroad destinations in the world, but for those with little to no Spanish speaking skills, living and studying in Spain can be an intimidating possibility.

Fountain in Seville, Spain

Traveling tends to magnify all human emotions: TRUTH - Seville, Spain

Photo Credit: Carrie Carpenter

If you’re one of the many students concerned about having an academically successful study abroad experience without having to sacrifice all of your free time learning Spanish, there are still program options available for you. Here is everything you need to know to study in Spain in English:

1. Find a program with course instruction in English.

Though many study abroad programs in Spain include language training or a focus on intensive Spanish language courses, there are also plenty of programs that allow students to take a full course load in English. Prospective study abroad students will need to do their research to figure out which programs offer courses taught in English. Talk to your study abroad office, check out individual program websites, read reviews, and if you’re unsure if a specific program offers instruction in English, you can always call the provider directly.

The availability of English instruction can also vary based on the type of courses you seek to enroll in. Courses that focus on business, finance, information technology, international relations, and economics tend to involve more English instruction simply because of their international nature.

View of Alicante, Spain

Viva España - Alicante, Spain

Photo Credit: Mallory Olita

2. Choose your location wisely.

You will want to consider many different locations, and how each one may impact your ability to be successful and communicate in English. Fortunately, Spain is highly developed with many English speakers, no doubt due in part to their their national curriculum that encourages young citizens to be fluent in English by age 16. Consequently, much of Spain’s younger population, at least, has a basic understanding of the principles of the English language (so you’ll likely be able to find someone with at least limited English language skills if you are truly lost and in need of directions).

Instead of heading to Spain’s boonies, stick to larger, more cosmopolitan cities. International hot spots in Spain include Madrid and Barcelona, which have the highest concentration of English speaking citizens. You should also research other university-centered areas of the country, such as Granada and Seville, as they can also provide an international atmosphere with a large number of students that speak some level of English.

3. Consider study abroad programs hosted at European & American colleges or universities.

There are several American and European universities that offer semester or yearlong programs in English located in Spain. For example, St. Louis University offers all student instruction in English. Schiller International University is another option that has multiple campuses across Europe. You can also check out Boston University’s study abroad programs in Madrid or Suffolk University's course options.

Canal view in Vall de Nuria, Spain

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone - Vall de Nuria, Spain

Photo Credit: Alyssa Taubert

4. Take time to select your accommodation, it will make a difference.

If you want to study in Spain, but can’t speak a lick of Spanish, it’s probably best to avoid living in a home with a Spanish family (unless you want to run the risk of offending them every time you open your mouth!). Now, we know that sounds a bit dramatic, and there’s actually research to back up the benefits of beginners gaining rapid proficiency through the homestay immersion learning method. But, if you not only want to study in Spain in English but you also don’t have an interest in learning Spanish fluently, then choose a living situation with other English speakers, such as an apartment, a dormitory, or a hotel/hostel with other international students, is probably a better option.

5. Rut-roh! You may need to learn some Spanish after all.

We’re not talking fluency (even elementary) by any means, but if you do wish to study in Spain, you better be prepared to use Spanish throughout the course of your semester or summer there. Part of being a responsible traveler invokes a need to make an effort to integrate with and respect the local culture at all times. Even making an effort to speak broken Spanish comes off as far more understandable than a bratty foreigner demanding things in their own native language (don’t be that guy!). Instead, commit basic words and phrases to memory, and consciously pick up more naturally as you are studying in Spain.

Learning even a little Spanish will make your life easier, make your interactions sweeter, and make you feel more at home, what’s not to love?

Barnacle hunting on a beach in Nerja, Spain

Barnacle hunting on the beach - Nerja, Spain

Photo Credit: Kathryn Davis

TO SWEETEN THE DEAL: Tips for Master’s Degree Programs in Spain Taught in English

Getting a master’s degree in Spain in English sounds far-fetched, but it’s actually well within reach. Regardless if you want to earn a degree in architecture, law, medicine, or nursing, there are universities in Spain that welcome non-Spanish speaking international students with open arms. Popular options include the University of Granada, the Global Business School Barcelona, and the Universidad Carlos III De Madrid. Here are tailor made tips just for students considering full degree programs in Spain:

  • Choose a program with faculty who teach in English. Duh. Even if you dream of studying under Carme Chacón, it won’t do you any good if you can’t understand her.
  • Reach out to alumni to learn about their satisfaction with the program. If a student wasn’t able to communicate in Spanish and has basically lived your life but earlier, wouldn’t it be helpful to know if they thought the academic experience was worthwhile or not? Gather insider tips from any and everyone you can.
  • Contact the program advisor. The best resource for finding information on graduate programs in Spain taught in English will be the faculty and staff supporting the programs themselves. While we commend you for scouring the internet and researching independently, your best bet will be to ask the appropriate individuals directly for feedback on the feasibility of getting a master’s degree in English at a university in Spain.

If you’re in it for the long run, be sure to save some time during your studies to commit to networking and the job hunt. Then your Spanish walkabout will turn into a semi-permanent life abroad right before your eyes!

Aqueducts in Segovia, Spain

The oldest aqueducts in the world, Segovia, Spain

Photo Credit: Sarah Bilski

Bear in mind: None of these tips are applicable to those students who wish to learn Spanish while studying in Spain. If your ultimate goal is to gain proficiency in the Spanish language, you may have clicked on the wrong article (but don’t worry, we have plenty more articles about study abroad in Spain). In fact, choosing a smaller city, doing a homestay, and signing up for Español 101 should probably be at the top of your study abroad to-do list for Spain.

No matter what level of Spanish you speak (even if it is none-zo), there are study abroad programs in Spain to fit your needs. The fact that you don’t know Spanish shouldn’t hold you back from the adventure of a lifetime! Don’t be afraid to take the next step.