Which Languages are Spoken in Spain?

Hint: There are more than just Spanish, Catalan, and Basque

Flags of autonomous communities in Spain
 Manuel Velasco/Getty Images

¿Hablas español? If you do, good—that'll get you far here in Spain. But if you find yourself in Catalonia, for example, or the Basque Country, or a handful of other regions, you may still find yourself at a loss when reading some signs and menus that appear to be in a completely different language—that's because they are.

In addition to the obvious Spanish, there are several other commonly spoken languages in Spain.

Depending on where you are in the country, you may hear any one of the regional co-official languages, in addition to the Spanish you may already be familiar with. In some cases, the regional language is even more commonly spoken than Spanish itself. 

Spain's Official Language

Spanish, also known as Castilian Spanish or just Castilian, is the official national language. You'll see it called castellano here in Spain. 

The Spanish spoken in Spain is largely the same as that spoken in Latin America, but with some key differences. The main thing you'll notice is the different accent, although there are also some differences in vocabulary and grammar usage. 

Spain is a great place to learn Spanish that can be used with any Spanish speakers around the world. Some cities, like Salamanca, are especially known for their clear, easy-to-understand dialect, making them especially perfect for new learners.

 

Other Significant Languages Spoken in Spain

The autonomous community system allows each of Spain's regions to elect a co-language. Six regions have taken up this option.

Catalonia and the Balearic Islands have Catalan, which is the most widely spoken of all minority languages in Spain. Catalonia is perhaps where you'll most often see a menu written in a regional co-official language.

 

In Valencia, many locals speak Valencian (viewed by many—including the Royal Spanish Academy—as a dialect of Catalan, though some disagree). As a whole, though, Valencian speakers feel less strongly about their regional language than Catalans.

In total, around seven million people speak some form of Catalan, including 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 willing to speak Spanish than the Catalans are.

In Galicia, many people speak Galician, with a variant called Eonavian (also known as Galician-Asturian) spoken in Asturias. Approximately three million people speak the language. Of all the regional languages in Spain, it's the easiest to read and understand if you already speak Spanish. And if you also know a little Portuguese, you should have no problem understanding the language—Portuguese actually grew out of Galician.

Ready to start brushing up on your Catalan, Basque, and/or Galician?

See some common phrases in these languages at the bottom of the page.

Attitudes Towards (Castilian) Spanish in Catalan-, Basque- & Galician-Speaking Regions

Genuine hostility to Spanish speakers is rare in regions with co-official languages, and even rarer when said Spanish speaker is a tourist who is genuinely making an effort to speak the national language. That being said, mild animosity is not unheard of. It is often said that some Basques or Catalans would rather you spoke English to them than Spanish. If you meet such a hostile person, ask yourself if you really want to be speaking to them at all—and remember that they're not representative of every single member of the local community. 

While Basques are certainly proud of their regional identity (to the point that many identify as Basque, rather than Spanish), here in Spain the Catalans are often considered the most fervently nationalist of all Spanish regions.

In the Basque Country, street names are often written in both Spanish and Basque, whereas in Catalonia they only appear 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 Castilian Spanish in Galicia. 

Castilian Spanish is spoken in all but the most remote villages in these regions. You don't need to learn any of these languages to the point of fluency, but learning the phrases at the end of this article will definitely be appreciated.

Other Languages Spoken in Spain

Aranese (a dialect of Gascon, itself a variant of Occitan) is an official language in the tiny Val d'Aran, in northwest 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 León 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 exactly where one ends and the next begins.

In Extremadura, a region to the southwest 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 Almería) are even in Arabic due to its proximity to Morocco.

Thanks to Tim Barton of www.timtranslates.com for his help with this page.

 
Common Phrases in Popular Spanish Languages
 

 

English

Spanish (Castillian)

Basque

Galician

Catalan

1

Hello

Hola

Kaixo

Ola

Hola

2

Bye*

Hasta luego/adios

Aio

Adeus

Fins ara!

3

Yes/no, please/thank you

Si/no, por favor/gracias

Bai/ez, mesedez/eskerrik asko

Sí/no, por favor/grazas

Sí/no, si us plau/gràcies

4

Where is...?

¿Donde esta...?

Non dago...?

Onde está...?

On és...?

5

I don't understand

No entiendo

Ez dut ulertzen

Non entendo

No ho entenc

6

Two beers, please

Dos cervezas, por favor

Bi garagardo, mesedez

Dúas cervexas, por favor

Dues cerveses, si us plau

7

The check, please

La cuenta por favor

Kontua, mesedez

A conta, por favor

El compte, si us plau.

8

Do you speak English?

¿Hablas inglés?

Ingelesez hitz egiten al duzu?

Falas inglés?

Parles anglès?

9

How much is this?

¿Cuanto cuesta esto?

Zenbat balio du?

Canto custa

Quant costa això?

10

Excuse me

Discuple

Aizu

Desculpe

Dispensi

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