Planning a holiday to Spain this year? Why not pick up a little Spanish before you go! Grab a trusty phrasebook or start practicing with your favorite language app; whatever you learn will be understood wherever you visit in Spain. Right? Well, almost. Since there are far more languages spoken throughout the country than the Spanish you might expect! Here are the numerous languages of Spain and where you might find them.
Don’t panic! The most widely spoken language in Spain is actually the Spanish you already know. Almost the entire population of Spain speaks Castilian more than any other language, totaling at more than 46 million people. Since Castilian is the only official language of Spain which is spoken throughout the entire country, all public signage, official business, and education is taught in Castilian. This Indo-European Romance language originates from the Castile region of Spain and has gone on to be the L1 language of around 442 million speakers internationally.
Catalan originates in Catalonia and is spoken today throughout northeastern Spain as well as parts of France. There are around 4.6 million people who speak Catalan. It is one of the co-official languages for the communities of Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, and the Valencian region, as well as the only official language in Andorra. Those living on the Balearic Islands speak different variants of Catalan depending on the island, so don’t be surprised to hear even more differences if you are island hopping!
Originating from Catalan, Valencian is spoken by some two million people living in the Valencian region. It is considered the traditional language of the Valencian community and is often displayed alongside Castilian on public signage, demonstrating its co-official status. Though within that community, there are four further subdivisions of Valencian, and up to a quarter of the region don’t speak any Valencian at all.
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The only language of Spain that doesn’t have an Indo-European background, Basque is spoken throughout the Basque region of the country, as well as in Navarre, by about 900,000 people. Basque is one of the oldest languages in Europe, said to predate even Latin! Basque is classed as a language isolate having no connections with any other living language at all. So while it is only a co-official language in these regions don’t be surprised if you hear a language that sounds completely different to Castilian, since there are barely any similarities at all.
The Galician region in the northwest corner of Spain next to Portugal is home to Galician, a co-official language spoken by 2.6 million people. Despite its proximity to Portugal, Galician is actually linguistically closer to Castilian than any other regional language of Spain. Though if you speak Portuguese there is enough mutual intelligibility for you to be able to understand Galician without any problems. Galician is also spoken in a non-official capacity in Principality of Asturias, Castile, and León.
Aranese might only be spoken by 5000 people in the Pyrenean comarca of the Aran Valley in northwestern Catalonia, yet it is still an official language for the region! Any of those who speak Aranese have the right to conduct their business and deal with government officials in the language, yet Aranese still shares its official status with the wider spoken Catalan and Castilian. The rest of Catalonia outside of the Aran Valley does not recognize Aranese as official.
The best of the rest?
All the above languages have some degree of official status, yet there are plenty more languages to be found throughout Spain that aren’t widely spoken or official at all. Take for instance Aragonese which is recognised but not official in Aragon, and Asturian which has the same treatment in Asturias. Leonise is recognized but not official in Castile and León, and is spoken in the provinces of León and Zamora. Aragonese, Asturian, and Leonise are all severely endangered minority languages.
Extremaduran is a group of dialects of Asturleonese, a language spoken in Extremadura as well as some adjoining areas of Salamanca. Murcian is spoken in Murcia, La Vega Baja del Segura, and even the province of Alicante, though has no official status anywhere at all! There are also pockets of numerous other languages spoken besides. And we haven’t even touched on the immigrant languages of Spain which include English, Arabic, and both Mandarin and Cantonese. Though it is safe to say, if you are heading to Spain, a little vocabulary in Castilian would be a great place to start!