Readers weigh in: the best European countries for English speakers

If you’re planning a move to work and live in a European country in 2022, either from inside or outside the EU, and English is your first – or even your second – language, you might want to consider a move to a country in which English is widely spoken. We asked our readers for their opinions.

Readers weigh in: the best European countries for English speakers

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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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Member comments

  1. I reckon 60 percent of all the questions I get asked are in English. I work at a busy Airport Arlanda and wear a gold jacket often so I try to help as much as possible. I use Google translate for people with no common used European languages. And it works fine.

  2. I am surprised and disappointed to have read the section of this article relating to one person’s experience in rural Italy – claiming to have been mocked as a non-Italian speaker. I have been living in a tiny hill-top village in Le Marche since November 2021 where there are no tourists during the winter season and very, very few English speakers. I speak a little Italian – although my understanding of spoken Italian is better – and the locals here speak a dialect I can barely understand; however, they have – without exception – been charming, warm, patient and accepting. Word has got around that an Australian is living in the area, and I am sometimes stopped on my morning walks and asked if I am that Australian living in the little village. One person’s experience does not necessarily create the rule. Of course, individual experiences will differ, but it is unfortunate that some aspects of this story create the sense of rural Italians being somehow unenlightened. I have found them exceptionally kind.

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‘It’s a grieving process’: The difficulties of moving home from Europe

The pandemic and travel restrictions have caused many people to question their residency abroad. But the decision whether to stay or go, as well as the process of returning home is not an easy one, as Emma Firth explains.

'It's a grieving process': The difficulties of moving home from Europe
Departures sign at Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle airport. KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

It’s a grey day in the middle of British winter and I’m standing in a playground overlooking rows of Victorian terraced houses. I hear middle-class English accents all around me, as parents eagerly tend to their children who are dressed in anything from a school t-shirt and leggings to waterproof suits.

I imagine the scene, on this day, at this time across the North Sea in Copenhagen. What would it look like, what would it sound like, why do I feel so different standing here?

Nyhavn, Copenhagen. Photo: AFP

It’s been six months since my young family and I moved back to Sheffield, England after three and a half years in Copenhagen. It has been a strange and difficult process, not helped by the restrictions of a pandemic and various lockdowns but also because I never expected moving “home” to be hard.

When we relocated to Denmark in 2017, there were many hurdles to overcome as we learnt about a new country, culture and language through mistakes and perseverance. But behind it all was the thrill of uncovering each layer of our new home and the reward of a constant learning process in even the most mundane of tasks. 

Discovering how to use the communal washing machines when you didn’t know what setting to use; trying to make yourself understood at the supermarket when looking for the unpronounceable ‘grød’, (porridge) later realising it’s sold as 'havregryn' (oats); waiting to be served at the chemist without realising you need a ticket.

And then you are home. None of these hurdles exist because you know it all. Plain sailing, you would think. But jarring against that sense of familiarity is the realisation that you’ve changed. Everything feels the same, except you.

“This is not talked about enough,” says Dr. Melissa Parks, a coach for expats and global nomads. “Moving home can be more challenging than the move abroad because you think it’s a comfy process and like home.

“You need to think of it as a new place. Be prepared to feel discomfort, to feel out of place.”

Almost two years ago Melissa returned to her hometown of Seattle after ten years living in Spain and the Netherlands.

“When we left Amsterdam I remember crying out of nowhere. Even if you have all the tools in the world you can’t make it pain free. For me it was helpful knowing the emotional rollercoaster was normal and being my own cheerleader through it all, but it was still really hard.”

Dr. Parks refers to it as a grieving process and says it can take around 18 months before feeling at home again. I gulp as she says this.

She adds, “a natural reaction can be, ’what can I do to fix this? What can I do to get rid of this feeling?’ But you have to give yourself time to go through the grieving process.”

It turns out that making direct comparisons and questioning the decision, as I have done on many occasions, is really quite unhelpful.

“It’s easy to fall into a trap of comparing,” says Katherine, who writes the blog ‘Bad Days Abroad’ and helps internationals contemplating a move.

“Some of the struggles I hear come from people’s false expectations. But not expecting it to be as you remember it – even feeling the same way – will help.

“And don’t get upset when your home friends and family can’t relate to your struggles. It’s important to connect with other internationals who can understand what you’re going through.”

Making the decision

For Danielle, who has lived in Copenhagen for the last ten years, the dilemma about whether to move home to England was an agonising one.

Eighteen months ago, she and her now ex husband set up the logistics to move back to be close to family. They got places at the local school for their children and paid £8000 to secure a rental property, with the aim of later buying.

“We’d invested everything into the move and we were ready to go, but it suddenly just felt so wrong in our stomachs.”

While visiting the area to sort out furniture, they decided to pull the plug, one month before moving day. It meant losing the £8000.

“It just didn’t feel like we could belong there again. Even though there was that huge pull of being close to family, we ended up making a big U-turn and chose Denmark for its quality of life, well being, opportunities for the kids, and mindset of the people.”

Gråbrødretorv, Copenhagen, April 2020. Thibault Savary / AFP

Luckily, Danielle hadn’t formally left her job or sold the Copenhagen apartment, so the reverse decision was possible and it helped the family commit to Denmark longer-term.

But it hasn't left her completely free of the dilemma, especially while visiting home is off the agenda with current travel restrictions.

“I’ve been struggling with the fact that my choice to stay maybe creates more distance and erodes the closeness I have with my family over time, although we have maintained good contact so far. But this year has been incredibly cruel with the tragic death of my cousin and then my Nan and not being able to attend their funerals or be there with my family. 

“The distance is made ten times worse with the pandemic. I would otherwise be travelling back every six weeks because I’m a teacher and can do that.”

Living between two cultures

The idea of being able to live between two countries is helpful for many internationals, whether they decide to stay or go home and it’s something that is temporarily on pause due to the pandemic.

When author Jayne Tuttle returned home to Australia in 2014, after ten years living in France, she was back in Paris six months later. With the exception of last year, she has kept up the pattern of returning for long stints ever since.

“Somehow along the way I made peace with the fact that our life as a family would exist between two countries. That stopped the agony of feeling ripped away from the place I love most. After all, it’s just a place.

“I read in French, listen to French, dream in French. Just as in Paris in the later years I accepted my Australianness and stopped trying to act French, in Australia I keep my little French person close to me.

“I don’t care any more that I don’t quite fit into either culture, which used to plague me. Just as I love the abstract world between the two languages, I love the strange world between the two cultures.”

People wonder through the narrow streets of the Montmartre district of Paris on October 6, 2017. Photo: AFP

That acceptance, of being between different cultures, seems to be the crux to finding peace with where you’re at, either abroad or having returned home. Danielle refers to it as an “agony” she has learnt to live with. Dr. Parks calls it “being a triangle”.

“You’re not a square like the people in the country you’ve come from, you’re not a circle like those in your home country; you’re a triangle. So find your other triangles.”

There is an online community called ‘I am a Triangle’ for this very reason.

The ‘Danes in Sheffield’ group are my triangles it seems. Meeting with them, albeit at a distance, has helped connect the language and culture I’ve just left, to the new yet familiar one I now face.

Leaving a country is a difficult and sad process but this is completely normal and also, completely fine, because with it, comes so much more.

You now inhabit a new culture, a new network, perhaps a new language that will enrich your life for years to come – especially once we can all travel again.