English is quite widely spoken, especially in larger cities and popular tourist areas, less so in rural villages and among older Spaniards. Learning a little Spanish (Castilian, or castellano) before you come will, however, greatly increase your appreciation of the country, not least through your ability to converse with locals. Many restaurants (but by no means all) now have English-language menus, but some museums have labels only in Spanish.


Among the more popular places to learn Spanish are Barcelona, Granada, Madrid, Salamanca and Seville. In these places and elsewhere, Spanish universities offer good-value language courses.

The Escuela Oficial de Idiomas is a nationwide language institution where you can learn Spanish and other local languages. Classes can be large and busy but are generally fairly cheap. There are branches in many major cities.

Private language schools as well as universities cater for a wide range of levels, course lengths, times of year, intensity and special requirements. Many courses have a cultural component as well as language. University courses often last a semester, although some are as short as two weeks or as long as a year. Private colleges can be more flexible. One with a good reputation is donQuijote (www.donquijote.com), with branches in Barcelona, Granada, Madrid, Salamanca and Valencia.

It’s also worth finding out whether your course will lead to any formal certificate of competence. The Diplomas de Español como Lengua Extranjera (DELE) are recognised by Spain’s Ministry of Education.