How feasible is it for me to live and work abroad?
March 27, 2007 2:00 AM   Subscribe

I've always wanted to spend some time living/working abroad, preferably Spain. However I'm from the UK, and like many of us, I speak practically no languages other than English.

A bit more detail... I work in IT, I'm 25. Specifically, by the time I aim to get away (18 months time), I hope to be a project manager.

Like I said, I speak only English at the moment. I want to spend some time living abroad, working on IT projects. I know I could go abroad and teach English but thats not what I want to do. I want to continue my career.

What should be my plan of action? Give up the pipe dream? Concentrate on learning Spanish? How little Spanish could I get away with? I could do barwork or something to improve the Spanish once I'm out there.

Anyone done anything like this?
posted by tomw to Work & Money (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
A good friend of mine spent 3 years in Valencia, learning Spanish, and teaching English, and doing web design. I understand that once you're in Spain, the Spanish courses are much much better. So signing up for Spanish lessons once you're out there is definitely possible.

I would, of course, do some evening classes here so you're not starting from complete scratch, and maybe try to find someone Spanish to do a language swap with here: an hour spent helping someone with their English in exchange for an hour of Spanish conversation will really speed things up.

Work wise, you might want to look into getting a job with an English or US company with offices in Spain and transferring, which would enable you to continue working in English. You could also look into Internationalization ( I expect you'd need to develop quite good Spanish, but once you have got the language skills and the computing skills there's quite a lot of work in making different software packages work in different linguistic environments.
posted by handee at 2:11 AM on March 27, 2007

Well, interestingly enough, I work for EA in the UK and our offices (the specific department I work in) is being moved to Madrid in a few months time as part of us centralising European localisation/testing processes. Language classes/moving costs are being paid for us. I speak absolutely zero Spanish, but as it is an American company the official communication language within is English. There are other companies in Madrid that operate in a similar manner. Or so I'm told. Knowing Spanish helps, obviously, but it shouldn't prevent you finding a job, especially within IT.

So, yeah, get a job at a major electronics company that is relocating/has relocated to Spain.

Or you can do what my sister did: learn the basics of the language, move to Spain, get a job at a bar, learn just enough Spanish to hold a conversation, meet some people and then move on to your career.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:26 AM on March 27, 2007

I'm in a similar position. I want to go overseas and work, but maintain my profession. The trick, as I see it, is to find a workplace in Spain (or wherever) that speaks english. That way, at work you can still get by, but outside of it you will be immersed in the foreign culture. It's easier for me because I'm in research, and everybody needs to speak english, but the principle remain the same. Send out emails to potential employers (especially international companies that have headquarters in english-speaking countries) looking for work, and explaining that your spanish is limited.

Then learn spanish like crazy. Nobody can learn to complete fluency in 18 months, but you'd be amazed at how far you can get. Once you're in the country your skills will develop faster. Because even if you get away with speaking english at work, you'll still have to speak spanish everywhere else.

The other option is, as you've mentioned, to find less lucrative jobs that still gets you in the country. It would take you about a year there before your language skills were passable (it's soooo much faster when you have no choice but to speak the language), then you could apply for more professional jobs.

Don't give up on the pipe dream. Anything is possible.
posted by kisch mokusch at 2:28 AM on March 27, 2007

Or, on preview, exactly what slimepuppy said.
posted by kisch mokusch at 2:29 AM on March 27, 2007

I'm a Brit who has worked (in I.T.) in Italy (not knowing any Italian at first) and is currently working in Sweden (even after 6+ years here, my Swedish is very poor). So it can happen. Both jobs came about, however, because I had very specific experience with a not-very-widely-used 4GL, and both employers had/have English as an official working language.

As to what your plan should be, I don't know--I never had one. The more generic and commonplace your skillset, the less likely an overseas employer would be to pick you over a local, especially if you don't speak their language. A quick search for 'Spain' in the current IT vacancies at jobserve brings up more possibilities for SAP consultants than anything else, so if there's any way for you to gain SAP experience, that'd be a way to go.
posted by misteraitch at 2:33 AM on March 27, 2007

What should be my plan of action? Give up the pipe dream? Concentrate on learning Spanish? How little Spanish could I get away with? I could do barwork or something to improve the Spanish once I'm out there.
Spain is not the Netherlands, you need Spanish. Less so in IT, but you do need it. On the plus side, it’s one of the easier languages for an English speaker to learn. Take classes, do the homework, do the language swap thing.

As a Brit, you don’t need a work permit, and Spain’s economy is very healthy right now. The whole thing is very workable.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 3:21 AM on March 27, 2007

Gibraltar? There are a lot of English gambling sites that relocated out there You could use it as a stepping stone - learn the language etc.
posted by Leon at 3:33 AM on March 27, 2007

Oh, and if you really want to learn fast, get a Spanish girlfriend. Pillow teachers are very helpful - and of course fun for other reasons.
posted by kisch mokusch at 3:50 AM on March 27, 2007

Hi TomW,

My Software Company (for which I am a manager) is just in the process of opening up an office in Marbella. We are based in Hampshire but our CTO lives in Spain. Apparantly, once you are out there, you will find a constant stream of opportunities to learn the language in situ.

I know your plan is to get to Spain in 18 months time, but we're looking for good programmers now. If you can get out to spain in the next 6-8 weeks, send me your CV (email in profile) - we're a Microsoft shop, mainly.

Good luck!
posted by mooders at 4:42 AM on March 27, 2007

I found a Spanglish chat room was helpful when I was learning. Something about having the moment to think as I composed what I typed. Maybe if you are a slow typist it will prove frustrating.

General rule. Reading comprehension is easiest. Then writing. Then speaking. Listening comprehension is the hardest.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:36 AM on March 27, 2007

Best answer:
I can't tell you much about getting a job without Spanish skills, but I can say a little something about being in Madrid with poor Spanish skills. I spent close to six months in Madrid and started out with very little comprehension. I had a decent technical foundation as I had taken Spanish courses throughout high school and through my first year of college, but those lessons were about nine years old by the time I got to Spain.

I didn't have much of a built-in support network in Madrid when I first got there so the first few weeks were depressingly lonely. I studied my Spanish-English dictionary for ages before I would go to the grocery store or the movies. Very simple things you take for granted - like asking the people in your building where exactly you throw out your trash - became monumental tasks that I had to prep myself up for. It felt incredibly taxing at the time, but in some ways, that's kind of the joy of being a foreigner abroad - especially when you've moved there out of choice and for the experience. Looking back, grappling with the day-to-day living of a different place that operated in a different language was one of the greatest things about living 'abroad.' You place yourself completely out of your paradigm and force yourself to learn to live anew. It makes you more aware of the details that you can take for granted in the places you've grown accustomed to.

After I got a little braver and started being comfortable going to bars and pubs on my own, I met more and more people and the city opened up to me. Another option once you first get there is to join the numerous English language Meetup groups that are organized there. Also, there are numerous language intercambios, where you meet up with a madrileno who is looking to learn some english and you spend half your time speaking english and the other half with Spanish. Its a nice, stress-free way to practice.

Madrid is absolutely amazing and if there is any way for you to financially get yourself down there, do it! It may be tough at first because of the language, but you'll pick it up, and you'll meet enough English speakers to have a little crew to go and enjoy the city with. Ahh, I envy the experience you will soon (hopefully) be having.
posted by buddha9090 at 7:04 AM on March 27, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the help. :)
posted by tomw at 4:26 AM on November 20, 2007

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