Working in Europe while only speaking English - can it be done?


Hi all,

I'm an English-speaking architectural graduate. I graduated in the UK a year ago, have been working in the US since and have about 18-24 months of work experience in the UK on top of that (mix of part-time and full-time work). I'll be leaving here in the next few months due to expiring visas and so am looking for the next adventure.

I think that, before seriously getting stuck into my professional, I'd like to try living abroad again for another year or two. My preference would be somewhere in Europe like the Netherlands, Scandinavia or Germany but the potential language barriers are slightly off-putting.

I've been reassured by others that have lived and studied abroad with little to no knowledge of the first language there that I wouldn't have any problems adapting. I even had someone tell me that, from their time living in Sweden, that the natives actually preferred speaking English? How true this is I don't know, but I'm sure there must be a bit of a difference between speaking in broken Swedish to order a coffee and then using broken Swedish to co-ordinate a set of construction documents with various consultants.

Has anyone else on here ever spent time working somewhere where English wasn't the primary language? If so, how was the experience? Pros/cons? Very eager to hear!

May 30, 17 9:01 pm

It will likely depend on the company, perhaps more than the country. As you're sending out resumes, consider:

-Does the firm take on international projects, or mostly work close to home?
-Does the company have only one office, or multiple locations abroad?
-Are the firm's main clients the same nationality as its leaders?
-Is the company's website available in multiple languages? What about their job postings?

With a little bit of research, you can make an educated guess at the office's working language, and confirm when setting up an interview. Also note that European architecture programs often include a year of full time work experience as a degree requirement, so firms that are large enough to support a team of interns will likely have hired international students in the past, and may have at least a partially-bilingual work environment, and English does tend to be the lingua franca between various nationalities. A language barrier is certainly a challenge, but it can also force you to clarify your ideas, and communicate more efficiently. 

May 31, 17 12:43 am

Hi, I am also a UK graduate looking to work in Scandinavia. As far as I know, people there are fluent in English however I have been told by friends studying at KTH that fluent Swedish is required for most positions.

How did you manage to get a visa to work in the US? Did you have a job offer first?

Jun 5, 17 6:56 pm

My time in Europe revealed people there are much better at communicating through body language than Americans are.  I didn't pay as much attention to the folks in England because I spoke their language. 

Folks in Germany were great with communication and english and german do have words with common roots.  I could understand what people were telling me; I just couldn't respond.  

When I was there, Croatia had a shortage of Architects.  We were told that they could get projects all day long because there wasn't as much competition. 

Jun 6, 17 8:23 am


Yes, it is possible, at least with big projects. I know of a complex project in a Scandinavian country, where the client was from another country, most of the trades were from Eastern Europe, etc. As a result, the project documentation, drawings, specs, correspondence, verbal communication, etc. were all done in English.

Jun 6, 17 10:13 am

Try the UK or Ireland ;-)

But the Netherlands are also no problem, at all my jobs in NL there were foreigners working, either as intern, junior or architect/project leader.

Jun 6, 17 3:22 pm

It depends how deeply you want to dive in and how committed you are to the experience.  Several industries in many European countries do business in English and many professionals are business proficient in English. However, knowledge of the native language will gain you more respect from locals and allow you to interact on a much deeper professional level. You'll raise yourself from the rank of foreign tourist and student (which is not always revered in a tourist-packed place like Italy where I lived) to that of professional.  The effort gets noticed and it'll provide a richer experience.

Jun 6, 17 6:02 pm


There are a few hurdles encountered by many native English speakers when they move to the continent and want to learn the vernacular.

English is morphologically simpler than many, if not most other European languages; it is weakly inflected, has almost no adjective declension, grammatical cases, conjugation, genders, etc.

Consequently, it's usually harder for native English speakers to learn a new language, than the other way around.

On top of that, because of the path of least resistance, a normal conversation between a native and a non-native English-speaker will almost always end up being held in English.

Add to that the global influence of the Anglosphere, which, at least subconsciously, makes a native English speaker less determined to learn another language.

Jun 7, 17 2:28 pm

Learn the most languages as possible it opens more doors. From my experience it has been painful to learn a new language but its best to dive in deep and try to get at a C2 level asap.  

Jun 7, 17 2:53 pm

It can be done in small and large offices that work internationally - speaking from experience in NL - over 6 yrs working in English, multiple offices.

Jun 8, 17 7:22 am

Avoid asking for a dark beer in France. I thought the guy was going to punch me.

Jun 8, 17 1:19 pm

"Une bière lugubre, svp"?


In Scandinavia, there are many corporations using English as their primary language. In Sweden and Norway almost 90% of the population knows English, so living there isn't a problem. Same thing with the Netherlands, where many US corporations have their European offices.

Jun 12, 17 9:51 am

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