Speaking English in Madrid: What You Need to Know

Madrid is me and Caleb’s favorite city so much so that we’ve been almost 10 times. It’s okay to have (incredible and cheap!) wine at lunch and then later again at dinner. Eating the best ham in the world with amazing cheese is basically a requirement and it’s totally normal to eat dinner at 10 pm and then pause the work day the next afternoon for a nap.

But, while experiencing these amazing cultural norms will you be able to communicate? Spoiler alert: the answer is yes! People do speak English in Madrid. But, it’s not as simple as you might think and there are some “dos” and “don’ts” for speaking English in Madrid.

We’ll share everything you need to know in our guide!

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From the author: We LOVE Madrid so much that we’re planning to move there in a few years. We’ve visited the city together as a couple almost 10 times so if you have any questions, leave a comment and we’ll get back to you ASAP!

the “TLDR”

If you’re THIIIIS close to flying on over to the land of manchego cheese and wine but need just one more reason to bite the bullet without having to read a whole blog here, is the “too long didn’t read” answer: Yes! Most people in Madrid, especially in the center and tourist areas, speak at least enough English for you to get by. This is especially true if you’re talking to younger locals.  Studies have shown that almost 30% of Spanish consider themselves able to speak English.

We have never had any major issues communicating during the many times we’ve been to Madrid together without the ability to speak Spanish! So hello Rioja – here ya’ll come!

Interior of a traditional Madrid café with tall Corinthian columns and a long bar displaying rows of wine bottles. The walls are adorned with sepia-toned photographs of historical landmarks, and baristas are attending to customers in the background

Most English-Friendly Areas of Madrid

If you’re going to Madrid for just a short time – say a 3 or 4-day itinerary – you’re probably only going to stay in the historic city center as this is the most walkable part of Madrid where all the top sights are….aaaaand lucky for you it’s also the most English-speaking areas of Madrid.

The main areas you will want to stick to are:

A smiling woman standing in front of the grand Cibeles Palace in Madrid, her cheerful presence complementing the elegance of the historic building bathed in sunlight.
  • Chueca
  • Lavapiés
  • Malasaña

These are all the more “touristy” and central areas of Madrid that you will likely staying in and walking around in any way (since you don’t need a car in Madrid) but, if you’re worried about a language barrier, just stick around here!

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Of course, if you end up having a few extra days in Madrid, it’s always fun to get outside of the tourist area but you will more than likely run into some English barriers if you do so, like we did when eating along Calle de Ponzano. But, if you’re a couple like Caleb and me, you’ll think this is all part of the magic of experiencing a new culture.

Or, at least you’ll tell yourselves that LATER when it’s just a fun memory and you’re not in the heat-of-the-moment anxiety that you don’t know how to communicate. Yes, we’re speaking from experience.

A lively view of Plaza Mayor in Madrid showcasing the statue of King Philip III at the center, with visitors walking around the spacious cobblestone square surrounded by classic red facades and arches.

Practical Tips for Speaking English in Madrid

So, yes, you can get around only with English. !!! HOWEVER !!! (the !!! mean you better be listening folks) We find it very important to not be an ugly tourist, especially after we saw the “go away tourists” when we visited the Spanish island of Mallorca. We’re tourists….but we hate tourists. Go figure! Mostly because of the way so many tourists behave in Madrid (and Europe in general) and we have found that they really do give Americans a bad rap in many instances – you can usually pick American tourists out of a crowd. It hurts my heart to say that as an American myself!

To not be an “ugly tourist” who immediately walks into a restaurant/shop etc and goes “Do you speak English” without missing a beat, here are our best tips! This is how we personally have approached language barriers during our visits to Madrid and across all nearly 40 countries that we have traveled to as a couple!

The Almudena Cathedral stands majestic during twilight in Madrid, its baroque architecture illuminated against the fading sky, while the Plaza de la Armería below glows with street lamps and stretches out serenely
  • Avoid the phrase “Do you speak English” as we find that it can come across as very condescending since most people DO speak at least a little English where you will be.
  • Instead, learn to say “hello” in Spanish (we’ll help you below, don’t worry!) so you can walk in and GREET them in their native language. Then, just start speaking in English without asking. Let THEM tell you they cannot speak it instead of just assuming they can’t.
  • On that note, just be a nice human, please. Use your manners – say hello and thank you in their language and greet people even as you walk by them. It’s kind!
  • You will come across some pushy people trying to get you into restaurants or to buy things – no need to be rude. A firm “no thank you” in the local language goes a long way.
  • If you are ordering items like food or drinks and don’t feel confident actually trying to say the Spanish words remember – finger-pointing is the universal language that everyone understands! 😏 Just always make sure to remember a please and thank you. Of course, many of our favorite tapas bars like Taberna El Sur or the delicious Taberna La Concha have an English menu already!
  • Use your inside voice. This is something I struggle with as I am the epitome of a naturally loud American.

Let’s show those Momma they raised out right okay friends?

The Crystal Palace in Madrid's Retiro Park, a striking glass and metal structure reflecting the sunlight, set beside a tranquil pond with lush greenery and visitors enjoying the serene surroundings

Useful Basic Spanish Phrases

Now you guys need some basic words so that you can perfectly blend your native language and theirs, no matter what time of year you visit! Here are the basic phrases to know:

  • Hola: Hello (pronounced OH-LAH)
  • Adiós: Goodbye (pronounced AHH-DEE-YOHS)
  • Salud: Cheers (SAH-LOO)
  • Por favor: Please (pronounced POUR FAH-VOR)
  • Gracias: Thank you (pronounced GRAH-SEA-AHS)
  • De nada: You’re welcome (pronounced as you think it is)
  • ¿Cuánto cuesta?: How much does it cost? (pronounced KWAN-TOE KWAY-SYA)
  • ¿Dónde está el baño?: Where is the bathroom? (pronounced DON-DAY ES-TA EL BAN-YO)
  • Lo siento: I’m sorry (pronounced LOW SEE-EN-TOE)
  • Vino Tinto: Red Wine (pronounced VEE-KNOW TEEN-TOE)
  • Vino Blanco: White Wine (pronounced VEE-KNOW BLAH-N-CO)
A vibrant street scene in Madrid with people walking under the arches of Plaza Mayor, outdoor seating at a café where patrons are dining, and traditional Spanish buildings with balconies overlooking the square.

How we Can help you next

Now that you know that people speak English in Madrid but you should still learn some phrases, you also need to know what else to avoid in Madrid! We can help with our ultimate guide on what not to do in Madrid so you don’t look like a silly tourist!

So, what tip was the most helpful to you guys?

Other Helpful Posts on Madrid:

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A couple embraces while watching the sunset behind the Crystal Palace in Madrid's Retiro Park, a moment of romance and tranquility by the reflective waters.

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