¿Hablas Español? If you do, good, that'll get you far, but you may still find yourself at a loss when reading some signs and menus as there are several other popular languages in Spain. The web is full of misinformation on the languages spoken in Spain, read on for the definitive answer.
Spain's Official Language
Spanish, also known as Castilian Spanish or just Castilian, is the official national language in Spain.
The Spanish spoken in Spain is largely the same as that spoken in Latin America. The main difference is accent, although there are some differences of vocabulary and grammar usage. Spain is a great place to learn Spanish that can be used with any Spanish speakers around the world. Read more about Learning Spanish in Spain.
Other Significant Languages Spoken in Spain
Catalonia and the Balearic Islands have Catalan. This is the most widely spoken of all the minority languages in Spain. Catalonia is where you will most often see a menu written in a language other than Spanish. In Valencia some people speak Valencian (viewed by many as a dialect of Catalan), though they are far less militant about it than the Catalans.
About seven million people speak Catalan/Valencian. Catalan is intelligible when written down if you speak Spanish (and/or French) but the pronunciation is quite different.
The Basque Country and Navarra have Basque, a complex language often dubbed the most unique in Europe. Despite the infamous ETA terrorist group being based in the Basque Country, the Basques are generally more happy about speaking Spanish than the Catalans are.
In Galicia many people speak Galician, with a variant called Eonavian spoken in Asturias. Approximately three million people speak the language. It is the closest to Spanish of the three regional languages in Spain - if you also speak a little Portuguese, you should have no problem understanding the language. Portuguese actually grew out of Galician.
See some common phrases in these languages at the bottom of the page.
Attitudes Towards (Castillian) Spanish in Catalan, Basque & Galician Regions
Genuine hostility to Spanish speakers is rare and even rarer when it is a tourist who is genuinely trying to speak the language, but mild animosity is not unheard of. It is often said that a Basque or Catalan would rather you spoke English to them than Spanish. If you meet such a hostile person, you have to ask yourself if you really want to be speaking to them at all!
Despite the notoriety of Basque separatists and the violent means they take to make their point, I've always found the Catalans to be the most fervently nationalist of the Spanish regions. Street names are written in both Spanish and Basque in the Basque country, whereas in Catalonia they are only in Catalan. Confusingly, Spanish speakers in Catalonia will often call Catalan street names by their Spanish equivalent, which can be quite frustrating when you're searching for it on a map!
It is pretty much unheard of for Galicians to resent the use of Castillian Spanish in Galicia.
Spanish (or Castillian, as purists call it) is spoken in all but the most remote villages in these regions. You don't need to learn any of these languages, but learning the phrases on the following page will definitely be appreciated.
Smaller Languages in Spain
Aranese (a dialect of Gascon, itself a variant of Occitan) is an official language in the tiny Val d'Aran, in north-west Catalonia, though it is not recognized in the rest of Catalonia.
Valencian is recognized as a dialect of Catalan by most authorities, though in Valencia it is seen as a separate language. This means that there are four, five or six official languages in Spain, depending on your stance on Valencian and whether you want to include Aranese.
In addition to these official languages, there are a number of unofficial languages in Spain. Asturian and its Leonese variant are understood to an extent in the Asturias and Leon regions respectively, but they are generally considered to be dead languages. Aragonese is spoken around the Aragon river and the province of Huesca in Aragon.
It said that these languages form a continuum - Portuguese, Galician, Asturian/Leonese, Spanish, Aragonese, Catalan, Aranese/Gascon/Occitan to Italian. It is difficult to say where one ends and the next begins.
In Extremadura, a region to the south-west of Madrid, you will also find Extremaduran (considered by some to be a dialect of Spanish) and Fala, a variant of Portuguese.
Finally, there are large immigrant communities of English and Arabic speakers in Spain. Some estimates claim there are one million native English speakers living in Spain - making English as widely spoken in Spain as the Basque language is. In some parts of Andalusia, road signs appear in English and some (around Almeria) are in Arabic.
Thanks to Tim Barton of www.timtranslates.com for helping me with this page.
|Common Phrases in Popular Spanish Languages|