Did you know that only 72 percent of Spaniards speak Spanish as their first language?
Don’t panic: nearly all of the remaining 28 percent speak it as a second language, so your Spanish will still serve you well.
But why not learn what else is out there?
Broadening your knowledge of Spain’s languages is a great way to expand not only your linguistic knowledge, but also your knowledge of Spanish culture.
Whether you just want to find out what some of Spain’s languages are called, or go the extra mile and start learning them, we’ve got you covered.
This guide will introduce you to six languages spoken in Spain, their history and culture—plus key phrases and learning resources for language lovers who can’t resist adding some local lingo to their repertoire.
More Than Just Spanish: 6 Intriguing Languages Spoken in Spain
1. Spanish… or Castilian?
The Spanish language is indigenous to Spain’s central region, known as Castilla (Castile). Unlike Spain’s other languages, Spanish is spoken across the entire country.
It’s often called “Castilian” or even “Castilian Spanish” in English—these English terms refer exclusively to the dialects of Spanish spoken in Spain. However, the equivalent Spanish-language terms—el castellano (Castilian) and el español (Spanish) can be used to refer to all dialects of the language.
Those who speak one of Spain’s minority languages are more likely to call Spanish el castellano, viewing it simply as another one of Spain’s regional languages.
Spanish initially developed from Latin and has been influenced by many other languages, including Arabic, Celtic, Gothic and English.
Nowadays, Castilian Spanish has some unique features that aren’t seen in Latin American dialects. The two most notable are the vosotros form—an informal equivalent to ustedes—and the ceceo, a phenomenon in which the letters c and z are pronounced like th (prompting other Spanish speakers to quip that all Spaniards have lisps).
If you enjoy the local features that make Spanish and its neighbors so interesting, you’ll love FluentU.
It’s an awesome way to actively build your Spanish skills while absorbing the language as native speakers from all over the globe use it. For example, you can learn some idioms from Spain with this fun video.
Check out the full video library for free with a FluentU trial!
2. Catalan: The Language of Gaudí and Dalí
Though often solely associated with Barcelona, Catalan (el catalán) is spoken in several areas of Spain and southern Europe.
Within Spain, the language is spoken in Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands. Note that in Valencia, it’s known as Valencian (el valenciano), though for all intents and purposes it’s just another Catalan dialect.
Catalan is also the sole official language of the tiny country of Andorra and is spoken in small parts of southern France and the Italian city of Alghero.
Learning Catalan is a natural choice for fans of FC Barcelona, art lovers interested in the likes of Gaudí and Dalí or anyone who’s tasted pa amb tomàquet (bread rubbed with tomato).
And even better, if you already speak Spanish, learning Catalan will be a walk in the park. The two languages are very closely related, to the point where certain words are identical in both. For example, “la tortuga canta” (“the turtle sings”) is a valid phrase in both Spanish and Catalan, although you probably won’t ever need to talk about a singing turtle.
Though it suffered from decades of repression under the rule of fascist dictator Francisco Franco, today the Catalan language is once again thriving. It’s taught in schools, can be heard on TV and is currently playing a key role in Catalonia’s independence debate.
Those hoping to learn some Catalan while brushing up on Spanish can check out Duolingo’s Catalan course for Spanish speakers. “Laddering,” or learning one foreign language through another, is a great way to get better at two languages at the same time!
Still, if you’re looking for a Catalan course for English speakers, you’ll love one of the many Catalan courses on Memrise.
Just looking to learn a few basic words and phrases? Don’t worry! Here’s a list to help you out:
Hola — Hello
Com estàs? — How are you?
Bon dia — Good morning
Bona tarda — Good afternoon
Bona nit — Good evening/night
Adéu — Goodbye
Sí — Yes
No — No
Gràcies — Thank you
Catalunya — Catalonia
València — Valencia
Les Illes Balears — The Balearic Islands
Català — Catalan
3. Basque: Spain’s Most Mysterious Language
Sometimes known as el vasco, Basque is spoken in el euskadi (the Basque Country), a region that encompasses parts of both northern Spain and southern France.
Interestingly enough, Basque is a rare example of a “language isolate,” meaning it isn’t known to be related to any other language. The language’s origins have long been shrouded in mystery, but in recent years, a theory that Basque developed from an ancient Iberian language has been gaining popularity among linguistic anthropologists.
Though it isn’t related to Spanish, Basque has contributed a large number of Spanish loanwords over the years, including izquierdo/a (left) and cachorro (puppy).
Basque nationalism is a powerful force in the Basque Country. Many locals will look favorably on those willing to take on one of the world’s most difficult languages.
For those willing to put their language-learning skills to the ultimate test, Ikasten, a website dedicated to Basque instruction, is a good place to start, as is the short vocabulary list below:
Kaixo — Hello
Zer moduz? — How are you?
Egun on — Good morning
Arratsalde on — Good afternoon
Gabon — Good night
Agur — Goodbye
Bai — Yes
Ez — No
Eskerrik asko — Thank you
Euskadi — The Basque Region
Euskara — Basque
4. Galician: No, It’s Not Portuguese!
Known in Spanish as el gallego, Galician is spoken in the autonomous community of Galicia, the part of Spain located directly north of Portugal.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the language is very closely related to Portuguese and fairly similar to Spanish by association. In fact, Galician and Portuguese are so close that a movement known as “reintegrationism” has emerged to officially unite the two, though for the time being they’re generally considered distinct languages.
The good news is that after learning Galician, any future attempt at studying Portuguese will be a breeze!
Among many other important sites, Galicia is home to Santiago de Compostela, known as the end destination of the Camino de Santiago (Way of Saint James). This is a popular trek for religious pilgrims and avid hikers alike. Most residents of the city are bilingual, so if your Galician isn’t up to scratch, you’ll always have Spanish to fall back on.
Regardless, the locals will certainly appreciate any effort to learn the language! So if you want to get started, try out this Galician course on Memrise. Alternatively, here’s a vocabulary list for those just hoping to learn a few words:
Ola — Hello
Como estás? — How are you?
Bos días — Good morning
Boa tarde — Good afternoon
Boas noites — Good night
Adeus — Goodbye
Si — Yes
Non — No
Grazas — Thank you
Galicia or Galiza — Galicia
Galego — Galician
5. Asturian: Unofficial but Unforgotten
Spoken in Spain’s northwestern region of Asturias (directly to the east of Galicia), Asturian (el asturiano) is a Romance language that shares many similarities with Spanish.
Sadly, Asturian today is an endangered language with just 110,000 native speakers remaining.
Though it does have some protections, Asturian isn’t an official language of Spain. However, its speakers have refused to allow it to fade into oblivion, and large demonstrations—including one in April 2018 that drew thousands of protesters—occasionally occur in support of finally giving Asturian official status.
If you’d like to help keep this wonderful language alive, Memrise has an Asturian course for beginners. The vocabulary list below will help those just hoping to dip their toes in—more can be found on Omniglot:
Hola — Hello
¿Cómo tas? — How are you?
Bonos díes — Good morning
Bones tardes — Good afternoon
Bona nueche — Good night
Hasta dempués — Goodbye
Sí — Yes
Non — No
Gracies — Thank you
Asturies — Asturias
Asturianu — Asturian
6. Arabic: A Language of Spain’s Past and Present
Believe it or not, Arabic was a dominant language of the Iberian Peninsula for hundreds of years.
It all began in the eighth century, when Islamic conquerors gained control of most of Spain and Portugal.
Al-Ándalus (Al-Andalus), as the territory became known, was at its peak one of the wealthiest regions of the world. The city of Córdoba was the world’s largest, and Muslims, Christians and Jews generally coexisted peacefully.
As Muslim rule over al-Andalus began to weaken, leaders of the Christian kingdoms to the north began the Reconquista (reconquest) of the territory.
Most of Spain had returned to Christian rule by the 13th century, and the Reconquista was completed in 1492 after the fall of Granada.
Though it’s been over 500 years since the end of al-Andalus, the period has left a significant effect on the Spanish language, as is reflected in loanwords like almohada (pillow) and naranja (orange).
Today, Arabic is once again a major language of Spain. It’s widely spoken among residents of Ceuta—which, along with Melilla, is one of two Spanish exclaves in North Africa—and increasingly by Spain’s population of Moroccan immigrants.
Learning Arabic is crucial to understanding Spain’s medieval past, and it’s also an excellent way to connect with Moroccan Spaniards.
If that sounds appealing, FluentU has an Arabic blog to help you learn the language as well as this list of basic words and phrases:
السلام عليكم — As-salām ‘alaykum — Hello
كيف حالك؟ — Kayfa hālak — How are you? (to a male)
كيف حالك؟ — Kayfa hālik — How are you? (to a female)
صباح الخير — Sabah al khair — Good morning
مساء الخير — Masā’ al khair — Good afternoon
تصبح على خير — tusbikh ‘alā khair — Good night
مع السلامة — Ma’a as-salāmah — Goodbye
نعم — Na’am — Yes
لا — Lā — No
شكرا — Shukran — Thank you
الأندلس — Al’undulus — al-Andalus
سبتة — Sabita — Ceuta
المَغرِب — Al-maghrib — Morocco
لغة عربية — Al-’arabiyyah — Arabic
And Many More!
Though Spanish, Catalan, Basque, Galician, Asturian and Arabic are among the most prominent of Spain’s languages, there are so many more you can choose from!
Some of these, such as Extremaduran and Aragonese, are indigenous to Spain, while others, such as Romanian and Mandarin Chinese, have been brought by recent immigrants.
While Spain’s linguistic diversity may seem overwhelming, even a few words can go a long way in forging relationships with the local people.
But rest assured: Spanish is spoken all across the country and your efforts to communicate will be warmly received by Spaniards.
Ultimately, it’s important to see these other languages for what they are: a way to dive deeper into Spain’s incredibly diverse culture.
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