Learning the language of your new home country should be one of your top priorities if you want to truly appreciate its nuances and culture.
But we all know that’s not so simple. And anyone who’s ever moved to live or work in another country will tell you that even if you knuckle down to language learning as soon as you arrive, it’ll still take time.
In partnership with Crown Relocations, we asked Local readers living in European countries about their experiences as English speakers.
We learnt that being safe in the knowledge that most people will understand English is reassuring as you toil with grammatical genders, prepositions and any assortment of linguistic torture.
Although, globally, approximately 1.5 billion people speak English, fewer than 400 million use it as a first language, which means that more than one billion speak it as a secondary language.
In its latest English Proficiency Index, global education company Education First (EF) analysed data based on test results of two million adults in 112 countries and regions. From this information it assembled a list of the top countries in Europe when it comes to speaking English. It turns out that only one of the top ten countries for speaking English is not in Europe (Singapore).
The fact that most European countries have fairly high standards of spoken English is probably not so surprising given that many European nations have historical trade links with the UK and the fact that English is one of three ‘working languages’, along with French and German, of the European Commission.
But which are some of European countries best for English speakers, according to The Local’s readers?
Let’s start with the UK’s closest southern neighbour, France, which has long been a popular destination for international workers, especially English speakers.
Local reader, Annie Khoury is from Los Angeles but lives in Nice, in southern France, for two months of the year. She says the French are quite laidback about speaking English.
“We spend about two months out of the year in France, and own property in Nice. We are English speakers. We have no problem living our daily lives, frequenting shops, and going about our business. We of course try to speak as much French as we can, but are never made to feel bad for mispronouncing words, grammar, etc.”
David Michael Angell, an American who lived in England and Jersey for 19 years before moving to Vitre in France, is also vocal in his praise for the patience of the French.
“I speak reasonably good French, but even when my French was rather poor I still found people friendly and helpful. Ticket agents, shop clerks, cafe owners, were almost always willing to help.”
However, Shireen Salleh, originally from Singapore, who now lives in Montpellier, has found the older generation French less helpful.
“From my experience, people still expect you to speak French, especially the older generation. They keep repeating the same word in French, hoping that I will suddenly understand it somehow.”
Germany has become very attractive to English-speaking internationals in recent years, and Victoria Salemme, originally a native of Boston, in the United States and now living in Munich, thinks it is because of the similarities of the languages.
“German and English have the same roots, so people here seem really eager to practice speaking English. It’s almost always possible to speak in English or find someone who can translate. I also would say that the use of a lot of English slang helps too because if I don’t know a German word for something often I can substitute the English slang word and that almost always works.”
However, Alokananda Nath, originally from India and now living in Frankfurt, says that if you live in smaller German cities, especially in East Germany, you would need to know German, “even for daily stuff, like going to the grocery store.”
A reader of The Local Italy also thought it made a difference if you lived in a bigger city rather than a provincial region.
Victoria Ferguson, originally from the UK, but now living in Liguria, believes that attitudes to English speakers in metropolitan Italy and rural Italy are totally different.
“If you live in a bigger Italian town or city, it’s totally fine as an English speaker and you can have a wonderful life. Small-town Italy? Not so much.”
“Many rural Italians don’t have connections or much interest with the wider world! I have had a few experiences in rural Italy when my attempts at speaking Italian were mocked,” Victoria says.
Gabriela Carbajal from Chicago, who now lives in Madrid in Spain, is very enthusiastic about his new home country and its approach to English speakers.
“Spain is a great country to live in as an anything speaker! I love the openness here to different languages. I want to live here forever.”
Finally, in Switzerland, we found one very happy English speaker, Nicole Garcia-Lemelin, from Boston, who now lives in Luzern.
“I think that because four official languages are spoken here, mostly everywhere I have gone, people all have at least a basic knowledge of English! I’ve never had a problem here.”
If you’re thinking of moving to a European country, Crown Relocations provides transportation, destination and immigration services, as well as family support, to assist people relocating internationally.
With experts working in 54 countries, Crown provides support, guidance, care and the personal attention needed to ensure success.