What languages are spoken in Colombia?

What languages are spoken in Colombia?

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Updated November 4, 2022

Colombia’s main language is Spanish. It is spoken by more than 99% of the population. If you are thinking of learning Spanish, many people say Colombians speak the clearest Spanish. Listen to Shakira speaking Spanish and decide for yourself! Once you start traveling around Colombia and improve your listening skills, you will learn that there are many different accents and languages. 

In this article, we will learn about the languages spoken in Colombia and some differences between the Spanish that is spoken in Colombia and Spanish spoken in Spain.    

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What language is mostly spoken in Colombia?

What is the official language of Colombia, you ask? Spanish! But wait, English is the official language on the Colombian islands San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina. While Spanish is Colombia’s main language, spoken by 99.5% of the population, there are Amerindian (indigenous languages), Creole, and Romani speakers as well. 

The Spanish first arrived in what is now known as Colombia in 1499. They eventually colonized parts of the region as the New Kingdom of Granada. Modern day Colombia has been inhabited by indigenous people for centuries, but the colonization of the region by Spain led to Spanish being the most commonly spoken language. 

What is the difference between Spanish in Colombia and Spain?

Yes, Colombia was colonized by Spain, but Colombian Spanish and Spanish from Spain have their differences. Additionally, throughout Colombia the Spanish dialect changes if you are in the capital Bogotá, the Caribbean, the Pacific coast, the city of Medellín, and more. 

Spanish spoken in Colombia is characterized by a musical intonation and clear pronunciation. For this reason, many people believe Colombia is a good place to learn Spanish. One main difference between the Spanish in Spain and in Colombia is the use of the (you, informal), usted (you, formal), vosotros (you plural, informal) forms. 

In Spain, the usted form is used to show respect when speaking to someone you do not know, someone who is older than you, or someone you need to show respect to such as your boss or your doctor. The vosotros form is used to address a group of people you know. It is informal. In Colombia, it is common to use vos (you, singular, informal) between friends. While is more intimate and used between couples. 

Also, in Colombia, usted is not always formal. The formality of a situation usually dictates which form of “you” to use, but in Colombia it can vary from region to region. Let’s review a few differences in common expressions in Colombia and Spain: 

¿Cómo estás?¿Qué más?How are you? 
¡Lo siento!¡Qué pena!I’m sorry!
Amigo / AmigaParce / parcero / parceraFriend
Fiesta / Fiestear Rumbo / RumbearParty / to party

Listen to YouTuber Karol G explain some more Colombian slang words

Spanish speakers often use the diminutive of a word. For example, changing gato (cat) to gatito (little cat). In Colombia, it is common to use the ending -ico or -ica when the word ends in –to or -ta. So, gato becomes gatico. 

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What are the top languages spoken in Colombia?

While Spanish may be Colombia’s national language, it’s important to recognize the various Colombian languages and different Spanish dialects. People disagree on the number of languages, other than Spanish, that are spoken in Colombia. The 2005 Colombian census counts 37 major languages. One organization has documented 101 languages in Colombia! In Colombia there are 65 minor Amerindian, or indigenous, languages. These languages are grouped into 12 different language families

Creole languages in Columbia

Two Creole languages are also spoken in Colombia. The first, San Andrés Creole, has some similarities to other Creole languages found in the Caribbean islands. Over time English, Spanish and other languages mixed to create a completely new language. 

The second Creole language, known as Palenquero, developed from people brought to the region to be enslaved during Spanish colonization. These enslaved people created walled communities known as palenques and developed their own language. This language is spoken in the city of San Basilio de Palenque.

Colombia’s language diversity is muy chévere (very cool)

We may never know the exact number of languages spoken in Colombia. The language diversity of Colombia is part of its rich history. If you are looking to learn Spanish alongside some indigenous languages, Colombia might be the place for you. Who knows, you just might meet a parce (friend) while learning Colombian Spanish.  

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Alison Maciejewski Cortez is Chilean-American, born and raised in California. She studied abroad in Spain, has lived in multiple countries, and now calls Mexico home. She believes that learning how to order a beer in a new language reveals a lot about local culture. Alison speaks English, Spanish, and Thai fluently and studies Czech and Turkish. Her consulting business takes her around the world, and she is excited to share language tips as part of the Lingoda team. Follow her culinary and cultural experiences on Twitter.

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