Spanish is one of the languages of Spain, and one of the most widely-spoken languages on the planet, with over 500 million total speakers spread across the globe. It’s also the official language of 20 countries, in addition to being an official language of the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union, and other worldwide organizations. Needless to say, Spanish is a global language.
Did you know it’s not the only official language of Spain, though? Made up of various dialects and regional languages, Spain’s linguistic landscape holds a few surprises. It also provides a deeper insight into the country’s culture and history.
The 6 Official Languages of Spain and How to Learn Them
There are 6 official languages in Spain, and learning one of them can help you see another side of Spain, as well as learn other languages more effectively.
Spanish is the only official national language of Spain, and it is by far the most common language spoken throughout Spain. You may be surprised by how commonly regional languages and dialects are also spoken though.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Spanish became the main language of communication between the different regions of Spain, and it has continued to gain popularity throughout the world ever since.
Despite the spread of Spanish, however, Spain’s regional languages continued to thrive, and many people still speak them today. In fact, if you travel through Spain, you’ll see bilingual signs written in Spanish and the regional language of where you are.
So what are the official languages of Spain? Let’s take a look.
How many languages are spoken in Spain? Spain has one official national language and 5 co-official regional languages, spoken throughout the country. In addition to its six official languages, 17 Spanish dialects and minority languages also contribute to Spain’s linguistic landscape. (And that’s not counting the country’s many immigrant languages!)
|Co-Official Language in Spain
|Spoken By % of Population (Native or Non-Native)
Sources: Instituto Nacional de Estadística – Encuesta sobre la Participación de la Población Adulta en las Actividades de Aprendizaje (2017); European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages – Fifth report of the Committee of Experts in respect of Spain (2019).
Here’s a linguistic map of Spain to help you visualize where each of the 6 official languages of Spain is primarily spoken.
Because it’s impossible to cover every language and dialect in one article, we’ll focus on the official languages by looking at what they are, where they’re spoken, and how you can learn them.
Spanish and Castilian are both terms for the Spanish language. Spanish describes the language spoken throughout the Americas, and Castilian Spanish describes the language spoken in Spain. While they’re the same language, people in the Americas and in Spain have different accents and may use some different words. They can still easily understand each other, though.
People speak Castilian Spanish throughout the whole country of Spain. If you ever listen to the Spanish news, watch Spanish movies or TV shows, or listen to the radio in Spain, chances are you’ll be listening to Castilian Spanish.
Schools and universities around the country teach and use the language every day, and most Spanish people speak Castilian Spanish in their daily lives.
Because of this, you’ll easily be able to travel throughout Spain if you speak at least a little bit of Spanish. Don’t worry if you don’t though. Here are a few essential Spanish phrases to help you get around.
If you want to take the plunge and learn Castilian Spanish, you won’t need to try too hard. Because it’s one of the most popular languages to learn, there are a lot of different resources you can use to learn it. Some of the most common ways to learn Castilian Spanish include:
- Language learning apps
- Online lessons and courses
- TV shows and movies from Spain
- Spanish podcasts and YouTube videos
- Key Spanish vocabulary lists
While watching shows, movies, and videos is helpful to learn new words and listen to native speakers, language apps and online courses help you practice the most important aspect of language learning: speaking!
It’s a comprehensive 8-module course designed to help you improve every aspect of your spoken Spanish – fluency, confidence, pronunciation, and more – step by step, and enjoy doing it.
Like all the languages in Spain, Catalan is a romance language. Around 9 million people speak Catalan fluently, and over 30% of people in the Catalonia region of Spain speak it as a native language.
Even though Catalan is spoken in Spain, it is surprisingly different from Castilian Spanish. The main differences are in its pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. Catalan is actually more closely related to the languages in France and Italy. In fact, Catalan is about 87% similar to Italian!
Because of Spain’s political history, Catalan speakers take a lot of pride in their language. And locals will be overjoyed if you’re able to say even a few basic words.
People speak Catalan in Catalonia, in the northeastern part of Spain, as well as in the Balearic Islands, like Mallorca and Ibiza. If you’ve been to Barcelona, then you’ve been to Catalonia! Catalan is also the only official language of Andorra, and it also has semi-official status in Italy’s Alghero region.
Almost half of people in Catalonia use Catalan at home, and over 90% of people in Catalonia can understand the language.
With that many people speaking it, Catalan is definitely a language worth learning, especially if you’re planning a trip to Barcelona! While it’s obviously less common than Spanish, there are still a lot of great ways to learn Catalan.
One of the best ways to learn the language is to use Intercat, a resource created by the public universities in Catalonia. It’s predominantly made for students studying in Catalonia, but it’s free and anyone can use it! A few language apps also offer beginner courses, like Fun Easy Learn.
Valencian is very similar to Catalan, and you may actually hear the terms used interchangeably. A little over 30% of people in the Valencian region speak Valencian regularly, and almost 50% of locals speak it fluently.
The Valencian region is located on the Mediterranean coast, just south of Catalonia. Some of Spain’s most popular tourist destinations are in the Valencian region, like its capital city of Valencia, as well as other hotspots like Alicante and Murcia.
Because the two languages are so similar, you can use the same resources to learn Valencian as you can to learn Catalan.
The University of Alicante also has some free Valencian resources to get you started.
Aranese has enjoyed a recent uptick in interest since it became a co-official language in its region. Local schools have also been teaching it bilingually alongside Spanish since 1984.
Even though it’s a co-official language, the number of people who speak Aranese is relatively small when compared to the other languages in Spain. Only around 7,000 people can understand the language.
Because so few people speak it, you can probably guess that Aranese only covers a small geographical area. Aranese is the language of Val d’Aran, a small area in Catalonia on the border between France and Spain.
Because only a small group of people speak Aranese, it can be difficult to learn Aranese outside of Val d’Aran. However, surprisingly, there are a few great ways to learn Aranese online.
Some language apps are beginning to include small, regional languages from around the world in their offerings. You can also find some great YouTube videos of people speaking Aranese. The local government put out a nice publication in English with more about the region and the language, which also features a selection of resources for learning more (see page 5).
Basque is one of the most unique languages in Spain because it’s a language isolate. It’s not related to any other language in Europe, and it’s not even related to any other known living language!
During the dictatorship in Spain, there were restrictions on using the Basque language. However, this trend reversed in the 1960s and Basque education and media has been flourishing ever since.
People speak the Basque language in the Basque Country, in northwestern Spain. The largest city in the Basque Country is Bilbao.
Because the Basque Country shares a border with France, people also speak Basque in some parts of France.
Some popular language learning apps have developed courses to learn Basque. You can also learn Basque using this list of resources from the Basque Heritage Organization.
Galician is a Romance language that is related to Portuguese. There are almost 2.5 million speakers of Galician, which makes it one of Spain’s most spoken regional languages. Around 58% of Galician speakers are native speakers, and the Royal Galician Academy is the official regulator of the language.
Although it’s a regional language in Spain, Galician actually has a pretty broad reach. It’s the co-official language in Galicia, which is located in the northwest of Spain. Migrant communities in the United States, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Uruguay, Switzerland, and Germany also speak Galician.
Even though Galician has millions of speakers, it can be hard to find learning resources. Many resources cater to Spanish and Portuguese speakers, but there sadly aren’t a lot of tools for English speakers.
Learning the regional languages of Spain can help you understand Spain’s culture, history, and people. If you can speak one of these languages, you’ll see a side of Spain that very few people do!
Speaking these languages has more benefits, too. Because most of them are romance languages, the Spanish language and the regional languages of Spain can be gateway languages to learning Portuguese, French, Italian, and other popular romance languages.
MosaLingua’s Spanish Course can be your first step to exploring Spain and learning the world’s fourth most spoken language. In less than 10 minutes a day, you can be communicating in Spanish!