Which languages are spoken in Spain?
Published on April 27, 2020 / Updated on November 1, 2023
In Spain, Spanish is the predominant native language nearly everywhere. Castilian or Castellano, is the official language in the country and is spoken by the majority of people. However, of Spain’s sixteen autonomous communities, six have co-official languages in addition to Castilian. Bilingualism of various degrees, then, is common in the country. In addition, many people call a foreign language their mother tongue or at least speak it. So what other languages does Spain speak?
Nearly 94% of the population in Spain speaks Spanish, but only about 82% call it their mother tongue. With more than 45 million people speaking Spanish in the country, Spain ranks number three together with Colombia among the countries with the most Spanish speakers, after Mexico and the United States.
Spanish is a Romance language with origins in the Castile region of the country, which is where the name Castilian or castellano comes from. The language as it exists today was also influenced by the Mozarabic dialect of the Muslim kingdom of Toledo.
The Reconquista in the Middle Ages expanded the Spanish language across the Iberian peninsula at the expense of other languages. Commerce, trade and diplomacy in the 16th and 17th centuries further established Spanish, while the Franco dictatorship in the 20th century prohibited the use of regional languages. The 1978 Constitution recognized the territories’ regional languages as co-official languages, laying the groundwork for bilingualism as it exists today in Spain.
A little over 15% of the Spanish population speaks some form of Catalan, while only 8.5% call it their mother tongue. The Romance language Catalan has its name from the region of Catalonia in the northeast of Spain and adjoining parts of France.
Catalan is a co-official language in the autonomous communities of Catalonia and the only official language in Andorra. There are roughly 4.5 million speakers – which grows to 7 million – when counting all variants of the language, including Valencian and Balear.
Valencian is classified as a dialect of Catalan by the Royal Spanish Academy, though some Catalans might disagree and consider the dialects languages of their own. Valenciano, as the name suggests, is spoken in the autonomous community of Valencia. Balear or Balearic Catalan is spoken in the Balearic Islands and makes up the eastern variety of Catalan.
The co-official language in Galicia is Galician, or gallego. The variant Eonavian is spoken in Asturias and takes the name of Galician-Asturian. Approximately three million people in Spain speak Galician, which makes up 5.5% of the population.
If you speak Spanish, Galician is the easiest regional language in Spain to acquire and it’s related to Portuguese, with which it once formed the linguistic unity of Galician-Portuguese. The three main dialects of Galician are western, central and eastern.
The term gallego to denote a Spaniard, especially used in Latin America, originates from the fact that many Spanish settlers in North and South America came from Galicia or, at least, started their journey to the ‘new world’ from there.
In the Basque country and parts of Navarre, the co-official language is Basque. Apart from standard Basque, six main dialects exist. A little less than one million people speak Basque today, or about 1.2% of Spain’s population. Only 0.8 percent call it their mother tongue. The Basque language is distinct in its pronunciation, syntax and grammar. It differs completely from Castilian Spanish.
Occitan is a Romance language spoken in the Aran valley in Spain, where it is also called Aranese and spoken natively by less than 3,000 people. Additionally, Occitan is a co-official language in all of Catalonia.
The region of Occitania spreads across Southern France, Monaco and Italy’s Occitan valleys. In Spain, it includes the Aran valley. Catalan is a close relative to Occitan and was considered its dialect until the end of the 19th century.
The different regions of the Iberian peninsula had their own languages, but without a status as official or co-official language in today’s Spain, they’re relegated to the role of the many Spanish dialects.
More than 6 million people living in Spain were born in other countries, which makes up just above 13 percent of the population. What other languages do they speak in Spain? The majority of immigrants in Spain come from other European countries, but also Latin America, northern Africa, Asia or Russia.
Immigrant languages therefore include Latin American Spanish, English, French, Italian, Portuguese, German, Chinese, Russion or Tagalog. The following are the most common foreign languages spoken in Spain:
Spain is a diverse country with a rich linguistic heritage. While Castellano is the official and most widely spoken language in the country, there are several other regional languages that hold significant importance. Catalan, Galician and Basque are recognized co-official languages in their respective regions, and they are all used in various aspects of daily life, including education and government. The unique linguistic diversity in Spain adds to the cultural richness of the country and reflects its historical and regional identities.