Which are the most spoken languages in Spain?
Spanish, Castilian, or Castellano, is the official language in Spain and spoken by a majority of people. But co-official languages exist and bilingualism of various degrees is common in the country. In addition, many people call a foreign language their mother tongue or at least speak it. So what other languages does Spain speak?
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The common languages in Spain
Spanish is the predominant native language nearly everywhere in the country. Of Spain’s sixteen autonomous communities, six have co-official languages in addition to Castilian.
Nearly 94 percent of the population in Spain speak Spanish, but only about 82 percent call it their mother tongue. With more than 45 million people speaking Spanish in the country, Spain ranks number three together with Colombia among the countries with the most Spanish speakers, after Mexico and the United States.
Spanish is a Romance language with origins in the Castile region of the country, which is where the name Castilian or castellano comes from. The language as it exists today was also influenced by the Mozarabic dialect of the muslim kingdom of Toledo.
The Reconquista in the Middle Ages expanded the Spanish language across the Iberian peninsula at the expense of other languages. Commerce, trade, and diplomacy in the 16th and 17th century further established Spanish, while the Franco dictatorship in the 20th century prohibited the use of regional languages. The 1978 constitution recognized the territories’ regional languages as co-official languages, laying the groundwork for bilingualism as it exists today in Spain.
A little over 15 percent of the Spanish population speak some form of Catalan, while only 8.5 percent call it their mother tongue. The Romance language Catalan has its name from the region of Catalonia in the northeast of Spain and adjoining parts of France.
Catalan is a co-official language in the autonomous communities of Catalonia and the only official language in Andorra. There are roughly 4.5 million speakers, or around 7 million when you count all variants of the language, including Valencian and Balear.
Valencian is classified as a dialect of Catalan by the Royal Spanish Academy, though some Catalans might disagree and consider the dialects languages of their own. Valencian, the western variety of Catalan, is spoken in the autonomous community of Valencia. Balear of Balearic Catalan is home to the Balearic Islands and makes up the eastern variety of Catalan. Within Catalonia itself, the two varieties central and north-eastern Catalan exist.
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The co-official language in Galicia is Galician, or gallego. The variant Eonavian is spoken in Asturias and therefore known as Galician-Asturian. Approximately three million people in Spain speak Galician, which makes for 5. 5 percent of the population. Around 5 percent call it their mother tongue.
If you speak Spanish, Galician is the easiest regional language in Spain to acquire, and as an Iberian Romance language, it’s actually related to Portuguese, with which it once formed the linguistic unity of Galician-Portuguese. The three main dialects of Galician are western, central, and eastern.
The term gallego to denote a Spaniard, especially used in Latin America, originates from the fact that many Spanish settlers in north and south America came from Galicia or at least left from there for the ‘new world’.
In the Basque country and parts of Navarre, the co-official language is Basque. Apart from standard Basque, six main dialects exist. A little less than one million people speak Basque today, or about 1.2 percent of Spain’s population. Only 0.8 percent call it their mother tongue.
Occitan / Arenese
Occitan is a Romance language spoken in the Aran valley in Spain, where it is also called Aranese and spoken natively by less than 3,000 people. However, Occitan is a co-official language in all of Catalonia.
The region of Occitania spreads across Southern France, Monaco, and Italy’s Occitan valleys, In Spain, it includes the Aran valley. Catalan is a close relative to Occitan and was considered its dialect until the end of the 19th century.
Spanish dialects: the less common languages in Spain
The different regions of the Iberian peninsula had their own languages, but without a status as official or co-official language in today’s Spain, they’re relegated to the role of the many Spanish dialects.
- Extremaduran: Approximately 200.000 people in Extremadura and areas of Salamanca speak castuó or Extremduran.
- Cantabrian: A group of dialects belonging to Astur-Leonese and spoken by 120.000 people in the autonomous community of Cantabria in the north of Spain.
- Asturian: Home to Asturias, around half a million people speak the Romance language Asturian.
- Aragonese: A modern language which originated from Navarro-Aragonese and spoken by some 30.000 people in Aragon.
- Leonese: Romance dialects home to the historical region of León in Spain are subsumed under the term Leonese and spoken by nearly 50.000 people.
- Altoaragonese: The province of Huesca close to Zaragoza is home to 12.000 speakers of this endangered and protected, yet unofficial, language.
- Fala Galaico-Extremeña: Between Extremadura and Portugal, only 6.000 people speak this language.
- Murcian: The region of Murcia and adjacent regions are home to this southern dialect of Spanish.
- Silbo gomero: Classified as a UNESCO Intangible Heritage of Humanity, Silbo gomero is a whistling language or codex invented and used by the aborigines of the Canary Islands. The loud sounds allowed for communication across valleys and ravines and distances of up to five kilometers. In essence, it’s a transposition of Spanish speech to whistling. Silbo gomero is still electively taught at school on the island La Gomera.
Foreign languages spoken in Spain
More than 6 million people living in Spain were born in other countries, which makes up just above 13 percent of the population. What other languages do they speak in Spain? The majority of immigrants in Spain come from other European countries, but also Latin America, northern Africa, Asia, or Russia.
Immigrant languages therefore include Latin American Spanish, English, French, Italian, Portuguese, German, Chinese, Russion, or Tagalog. The following are the most common foreign languages spoken in Spain:
- English: 11.7% of the population speak English, while 0.42% call it their mother tongue.
- French: 5.85 % speak French, with 1.36% native speakers.
- Romanian: 2.78% of the population speak the language, and 2.69% call it their mother tongue.
- Italian: 1.93% of Spanish residents speak Italian, but only 0.1% call it their mother tongue.
- Portuguese: 1.55% of the population speaks the language, with 0.31% native speakers.
- German: 1.22% of residents in Spain speak German, while 0.11% are native speakers.
- Arabic: 0.73% of the population speak Arabaic, 0.63% call the language their mother tongue.
- Russian: 0.3% speak it, 0.1% are native Russian speakers.
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Spanish language, Spanish Español, Romance language (Indo-European family) spoken as a first language by some 360 million people worldwide. In the early 21st century, Mexico had the greatest number of speakers (more than 85 million), followed by Colombia (more than 40 million), Argentina (more than 35 million), the United States (more than 31 million), and Spain (more than 30 million).
Spanish is the (or an) official language of 18 American countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela) as well as of the Commonwealth of Puerto
Rico, along with Spain in Europe and Equatorial Guinea in Africa.
Official Languages: Fact or Fiction?
Although many South and Central Americans use native Indian languages as their first language, Spanish is continuing to spread there. Estimated numbers of speakers (both as a first language and as a second language) are as follows, in order of numerical importance: Mexico, 110 million; Colombia, 41 million; Argentina, about 40 million; Spain, more than 38 million; Venezuela, some 27 million; Peru, 26 million; Chile, more than 16 million; Ecuador, more than 14 million; Cuba, some 11 million; Guatemala, almost 10 million; Bolivia, more than 8 million; the Dominican Republic, more than 8 million; El Salvador, some 6 million; Honduras, 6 million; Nicaragua, almost 6 million; Paraguay, more than 4 million; Costa Rica, about 4 million; Puerto Rico, more than 3 million; Uruguay, more than 3 million; Panama, 3 million; Equatorial Guinea, 627,000 (mostly second language). There are 100,000 to 200,000 speakers of Judeo-Spanish (Ladino), mostly in Israel.
Spanish is also known (particularly in Latin America, but increasingly in Spain itself) as Castilian, after the dialect from which modern standard Spanish developed. That dialect arose in Cantabria in the 9th century around the town of Burgos in north-central Spain (Old Castile) and, as Spain was reconquered from the Moors, spread southward to central Spain (New Castile) around Madrid and Toledo by the 11th century. In the late 15th century, the kingdoms of Castile and Leon merged with that of Aragon, and Castilian became the official language of all of Spain. The regional dialects of Aragon, Navarra, Leon, Asturias, and Santander were crowded out gradually and today survive only in secluded rural areas. Galician (a language with many similarities to Portuguese), spoken in northwestern Spain, and Catalan, spoken in eastern and northeastern Spain, were also much reduced but began a resurgence in the late 20th century.
The dialect of Spanish used in Arab-occupied Spain before the 12th century was called Mozarabic. A remarkably archaic form of Spanish with many borrowings from Arabic, it is known primarily from Mozarabic refrains (called kharjahs) added to Arabic and Hebrew poems.
Outside the Iberian Peninsula, Spanish is spoken in virtually all of Central and South America except Brazil (where Portuguese is spoken), as well as in the Canary Islands, parts of Morocco, and the Philippines. Latin American Spanish has a number of regional dialects; all are derived from Castilian but differ in several points of phonology from European Spanish. Typical of Latin American Spanish is the use of the /s/ sound where Castilian has the lisplike /th/ sound (for words spelled with a z or c before e or i) and replacement of the Castilian /ly/ sound (spelled ll) with a /y/ sound or even with the /zh/ sound of the z in English azure or the j in French jour.
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In Spanish the case system of Latin has been completely lost except for subject and object forms for pronouns. Nouns are marked for masculine or feminine gender, and plurals are marked by the addition of -s or -es; adjectives change endings to agree with nouns. The verb system is complex but, by and large, regular: it uses indicative, imperative, and subjunctive moods; preterite, imperfect, present, future, conditional, and a variety of perfect and progressive tenses; and passive and reflexive constructions.
The dialect spoken by most Spanish speakers is basically Castilian, and indeed Castellano is still the name used for the language in several American countries. The other languages spoken in Spain include Aragonese, Asturian, Basque, Caló, Catalan-Valencian-Balear, Extremaduran, Fala, and Galician. The ascendancy of Castilian among Spanish dialects is the result of the particular circumstances of the Reconquista (the conquest of Moorish Spain by the Christian states of Spain, completed in 1492), with which the language spread to the south. Having established itself in Spain, the Castilian dialect, possibly in its southern, or Andalusian, form, was then exported to the New World during the Age of Discovery from the mid-15th to the mid-16th century.
Standard Castilian is no longer the language of Old Castile, which was regarded as rustic and archaic already in the 15th century, but a modified form developed in Toledo in the 16th and 17th centuries and, more recently, in Madrid. Spanish-language American countries have developed their own standards, differing mainly in phonology (in which they often agree with the southern Spanish dialects) and in vocabulary (in which loanwords from English are more frequent), but differentiation is comparatively slight, and some Americans still regard true Castilian as their model. On the whole, American forms of Spanish are more musical and suave than the Castilian of Madrid, but it is remarkable how little deformation, or creolization, of the language has occurred.
Judeo-Spanish is the continuation of an archaic form of Castilian, reflecting the state of the language before 16th-century standardization. The expulsion of the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492 affected mainly the humbler classes, with the rich preferring “conversion,” but the latter often later chose voluntary exile to settle in England and the Netherlands, where their Sephardic tongue precariously survives as a religious language in a few communities. Earlier refugees fled to the Middle East and, once settled, continued to produce learned works in a literary archaic form of Castilian written in an adapted Hebrew script.
The first texts in Spanish consist of scattered words glossing two Latin texts of the 10th century, one from Rioja and the other from Castile; the language in the two documents shows few dialect differences. Another document, written about 980, seems to be Leonese in character. The Mozarabic kharjahs are the next oldest surviving texts, but by the middle of the 12th century, the famous epic poem Cantar de mío Cid (“Song of My Cid”) had appeared in a language that is basically Castilian. Literary works in Leonese appear until the 14th century and in a conventionalized Aragonese until the 15th century, but Castilian was destined from the first to gain the upper hand, even making an impact on Portuguese, especially during the 15th and early 16th centuries. For a full treatment of Spanish-language literature, see Spanish literature; Latin American literature.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica
Official languages of Spain
We always talk about learning Spanish (or Castilian), but few people realize that Spain is a multilingual country, in which, along with castellano, there are three other official languages. They are used in some autonomous regions of the country.
The third article of the Spanish constitution of 1978 reads:
1. Of the languages of Spain, Castilian is the official state language. All Spaniards are obliged to know it and have the right to use it.
2. The remaining languages of Spain are also official in the respective autonomous communities in accordance with their Statutes.
3. The rich linguistic and dialectal diversity of Spain is part of its cultural heritage and enjoys special respect and protection.”
If the language is called Cooficial and is one of the official languages, then its status is equated to other official languages. Spanish autonomous regions with their own language include Galicia, the Basque Country, Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands. During the Franco dictatorship, the use of local languages was prosecuted by law, it is for this reason that now they are trying to protect them from extinction, as best as possible. The official languages are compulsory for learning in the educational centers of these regions.
Spanish or Castilian is considered the official language of the whole country, in practice it is the dominant language in all autonomous regions. But 6 of Spain’s 16 regions use other languages alongside Castellano, which usually have the status of a second official language.
But the existence of two official languages in one territory does not mean complete bilingualism. To varying degrees, castellano predominates depending. The local languages of Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia are considered minority languages and various programs and development strategies are usually used to promote them.
All the local languages spoken in Spain, except for the Basque language (which is outside the group), belong to the group of Romance languages, in other words, those spoken in the Roman Empire and which are derived from Latin.
Castellano is the only official language of the entire country and is recognized as native by most of the Spanish population. After Mexico and the United States, Spain is the third country in the world in terms of Hispanic population (shares this place with Colombia).
It serves as the sole official language of regions such as Asturias, Cantabria, La Rioja, Aragon, Castile-Leon, Madrid, Castile-La Mancha, Extremadura, Andalusia, Canary Islands, Murcia, Ceuta, Melilla and parts of Navarre. And in Catalonia, Valencia, Galicia, the Basque Country and the Balearic Islands, it is considered one of the official ones.
In all these territories, Castilian is the standard language and the second official language is the minority language (the language of national minorities). For the most part, the local dialect prevails in colloquial speech, while Castilian prevails in official documents.
The language originated in the mountains of Cantabria and in the tenth century began a gradual expansion to the south. The dominance of the Castilian dialect over other languages began in the Middle Ages, during the Reconquista; with the establishment of the political, cultural and economic hegemony of the Kingdom of Castile, which then grew into Castile and León. The language also became widespread in the kingdoms of Aragon and Navarre, which contributed to the growth of the popularity of the language (especially in the areas of trade, communication and diplomacy) in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the second half of the twentieth century, the processes of internal migration, although to a lesser extent, also contributed to the dominance of the Spanish.
Catalan is considered the official language of Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, while Valencian, which is the western variant of Catalan, has the same status only in the Community of Valencia.
There are two main varieties of Catalan: central, spoken in the provinces of Barcelona, Girona, and eastern Tarragona, and northwestern, spoken in Lleida and western Tarragona. In Catalonia, Castellano is the mother tongue of the majority of the population (53.5%), while Catalan is only 40.4%.
In turn, the language of the Balearic Islands is a variety of Catalan and has features that fundamentally distinguish it from the island dialect.
In Valencia, Valencian is used, which is a variety of Western Catalan. According to linguistic indicators, there are two zones in Valencia: Castilian monolingualism (13% of the population) and bilingualism of Valencian and Castilian (81% of the population).
Galician is the official language of Galicia. It is closely related to Portuguese and during the Middle Ages formed a close linguistic unity with it. At the beginning of the 14th century, thanks to the active movement to the south, the original dialect was divided into Portuguese and Galician.
In Galicia, 61% of the population speaks Galician more often than Castilian. A distinctive characteristic is that Castilian is preferred by the inhabitants of cities, while Galician is preferred by the inhabitants of the countryside.
Currently, this language is spoken by more than three million people, both in Galicia and in the eastern part of Asturias, Leon and Zamora.
Basque is the official language in the Basque country, parts of Navarre, and southern France.
The Basque language is one of the languages that dates back to the pre-Roman era. Many studies have been carried out, but so far it has not been possible to find out its origin. However, many scientists note its similarity with the Georgian language. Despite the strong Roman influence, in the third century the language was not subject to Romanization, managed to survive and did not undergo any significant changes.
By 1984, there were many dialects in the language, therefore, to simplify communication, the language was unified and called “euskera batúa”.
Text: Irina Kharseyeva
What languages are spoken in Spain?
To the question: “What languages are spoken in Spain?” the answer can be unequivocal: “Well, of course, in Spanish!” This is true, but not quite.
- Official and co-official languages
- What languages are co-official
- Non-status languages
- Is it easy to live in a country with several official languages
- What languages are spoken in Spain
- Video from the rock opera “Juno and Avos”
Official and co-official languages
The language, which is called Spanish all over the world, is called castigliano in Spain itself, that is, Castilian. And besides him, in Spain there are several more languages that have official status in many provinces of the country.
In six of the seventeen autonomous communities (which is the official name of the Spanish provinces), Castigliano is the only official language. In the rest, it shares its official status with other languages. In such cases, the languages in Spain are called Idiomas cooficiales, that is, co-official languages.
Which languages are co-official
For example, in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, besides Castigliano, Catalan also has co-official status.
Catalan also has co-official status in the Valencian Community. However, it is called here somewhat differently – Valenciano.
In the northwest of the country, in Galicia, the local language Gallego, which is quite close in pronunciation to Portuguese, has co-official status.
The Basque language (aka Euskera) has co-official status in the Basque Country.
In addition to the above, Aran also has co-official status, although it is spoken by no more than 3,000 people. They all live in the Aran Valley in the north of the province of Lleida.
Some languages have neither official nor co-official status, but they are widely spoken in certain provinces. For example, Asturian in the northwest of the country or Aragonese in the north.
Despite such an abundance of languages, the Spaniards are quite easy to communicate with each other. First, the vast majority of Spaniards speak Castigliano. And secondly, almost all the languages of Spain, except for Euskera, are linguistically related to Castigliano and belong to the Ibero-Romance subgroup of the Romance language group.
The lack of an accepted status of a language does not mean that the language is not being used or is not being developed. Languages live by their own laws, different from the laws adopted in countries. Legislators can, to varying degrees, slow down or speed up the development of languages. However, legislative permissions and restrictions are not decisive in linguistics. The main role belongs to native speakers, who are born in families with such languages, learn to speak them from birth.
Is it easy to live in a country where there are several official languages
Some problems for residents or visitors to Spain may arise due to different languages in different provinces of the country. For example, if you live in Catalonia and do not know Catalan, you can get a certificate or medical report from a doctor in Catalan without any translation into Spanish.
The Catalan Post may confuse the recipient’s address if it is written in Spanish. Therefore, it is recommended to indicate the address in regular (non-e-mail) letters and postcards in Catalan. It cannot be said that such confusion is created by someone on purpose. No, it’s just that some residents of the province – employees of various organizations and enterprises – simply do not know Castigliano at all.
There are also significant advantages to having two languages in the provinces. After all, each official and co-official language has its own quite official representatives, organizations and even real tangible budgets.
Let’s say that in Barcelona (the capital of the province of Catalonia) there are 2 subways: Spanish and Catalan. Both metros are integrated into a single city metro network. An inexperienced passenger may not even understand that he is traveling in a Spanish or Catalan train, on a Spanish or Catalan metro line (branch). But two metros are always better and much more than one!
What languages are spoken in Spain
So what languages are spoken in Spain? How many Spaniards know the official Castigliano Spanish and how many people speak the co-official languages?
The quantitative distribution of Spanish speakers of different languages is as follows:
- Castigliano is used in everyday life by 89% of the population of the country,
- Catalan about 9%,
- gallego about 5%, and finally
- Euskera is spoken by about 1% of Spaniards.