Spain: The Basics. Languages

¡Hola!

Here’s another in our no-frills posts highlighting facts about the beautiful country of Spain.

You may also be interested in these other posts from the same series:

Climate
Cities
Flamenco
Tapas

The Spanish language

Spanish is a member of the family of so-called Romance languages. Other Romance languages include Portuguese, French, Italian, Catalan and Galician. These languages, which have their roots in Latin, are grouped together because of their shared basic vocabulary. They developed as a result of the expansion of the Roman Empire in the Mediterranean about 2000 years ago.

Spanish is primarily spoken in Latin America and Spain. Of individual countries, Mexico has the highest number of Spanish speakers and is followed, respectively, by Colombia, Spain, Argentina and the United States (then the rest). In the last twenty years the number of Spanish speakers in the world has increased threefold to around 500 million, with very rapid growth in the United States. There, Spanish is becoming increasingly influential in the spheres of media and politics.

  • Castilian Spanish

When we say ‘Spanish’ we technically mean ‘Castilian’, the form of Spanish which spread from Spain’s Kingdom of Castile to the rest of the country. Castilian became the dominant language in Spain by the end of the 16th century.

Spanish spread to South America about 500 years ago, with the arrival of the Conquistadors from Spain. This was a time when Spain was seeking to expand its influence in other parts of the world, and the voyage of Christopher Columbus to South America in 1492 marked the beginning of Spain’s Golden Age. Nowadays, the massive influx of Spanish speakers into the United States from Latin America is raising the profile of the Spanish language once again.

Speekee uses Castilian Spanish.

  • Other languages spoken in Spain

Castilian Spanish is not the only language spoken in Spain. There are three other official ones: Catalan (and its dialects), Basque and Galician.

Catalan
Catalan is spoken mainly in Catalonia, the Valencian community and the Balearic Islands. See red areas on the map below.

Map of Spain showing approximate area where Catalan is spoken

Catalan is one of the Romance languages and its origins date back to the 9th century. It is spoken in different dialects (variations in the language) and in Barcelona they speak a standard form. If you visit Barcelona, you may not be expected to speak Catalan but you’ll find the locals will appreciate it – Catalans (or Catalonians) are fiercely independent and their own language is an important part of their identity. That said, most Catalans also speak Spanish, so if you don’t know any Catalan but do know some Spanish, you can expect to get by.

Basque
Mystery surrounds the Basque language, which is spoken in a region of Spain known as the Basque Country.

Map of Spain showing approximate area where Basque is spoken

Very little is known about Basque, though it’s certainly an ancient language and apparently has no connection with any other in the world. Basque, called Euskara by those who speak it, is also spoken in parts of Southern France, and it’s thought likely that the Basque people themselves originated in France’s Aquitaine region. Basque has six main dialects. Like the Catalans, the Basques see themselves as an independent people, and their language is precious to them. Most Basques speak Spanish too.

Galician
Galician, or ‘Galego’, is spoken in Galicia, a province in North Western Spain.

Map of Spain showing approximate area where Galician is spoken

Galician is one of the Romance languages and it is spoken by about 3 million people. It originated in the old Kingdom of Galicia, which comprised Galicia and some of Northern Portugal. It has been argued that Galician is a dialect of Portuguese – an example of their similarities – but the Galician government regards it as a separate language. Galician has several dialects but with little difference between each. Nowadays most Galicians speak Spanish too.

Until next time readers,

Jim

Jim Porter is a co-founder of Speekee®, home of the most comprehensive Spanish learning program for children ever to appear online

Jim began his Spanish learning journey in 1990. He has been a language teacher since 1994 and he lives in sunny southern Spain with his two bilingual children. Loves it! More…

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