A look at the variety of languages in Spain (including Basque, Catalan, Galician, and Valencian), the status of official languages in Spain, and how to say some simple phrases in these languages.
Catalan is the native language of over 40% of Catalunya’s population and is the day-to-day language of over 50%."
You know that they speak Spanish here in Spain. You may also know that they speak Basque, Catalan, and Galician as well. But did you know that they speak Aranese and Asturian in Spain too? Spain is a veritable tapestry of languages – a reality that deserves a closer look.
Official Languages in Spain
Spanish is the official language of Spain, as stated in Article 3 of the Spanish Constitution. (This has often been a source of comment for the text’s use of the word castellano and not español.) However, Spain effectively operates under a federal system. The central government and the Spanish Constitution manage the country while Spain’s autonomous communities and their Statutes of Autonomy maintain varying degrees of self-government. If the autonomous communities decide that a particular language in their territory is a language to be used and protected, then Spain as a whole must stand by that decision. But as you can see in the Other Languages section, the autonomous communities haven’t always recognized all the languages used within their territories.
Spain’s non-Spanish languages enjoyed different degrees of development and use throughout their histories, but in the 19th century they witnessed a sort of Renaissance, and official recognition for some of them under the Second Republic in the 1930s. This, however, was reversed with the rise of Francisco Franco and his discouragement and suppression of all languages other than Spanish. Now in democracy, Spain’s non-Spanish languages are enjoying another Renaissance, especially under the state sponsorship of co-official languages.
Today, Spain’s main co-official languages are Basque, Catalan, Galician, and Valencian and all Spanish citizens have the right to use these languages. Accordingly, public education is offered in Spain’s co-official languages in their respective autonomous communities – sometimes preferentially and sometimes not.
The Basque language is called Vasco, Vascuence, or Euskera in Spanish and Euskara or Euskera in Basque, but the origins of the language are not known with certainty. Today, Basque is a co-official language in the Basque Country and part of Navarra where approximately 26% of the population in these areas speak Basque, although figures vary by area. According to the Basque government, 48% of people in Guipúzcoa are Spanish-Basque bilingual, while 10.3% of people are Spanish-Basque bilingual in Navarra. However, only 14% of conversations that take place in Basque-speaking areas are estimated to take place in Basque.
To the untrained eye, Basque looks like a mouthful of consonants, but Basque is really one of the most ancient languages in Europe. Consider the fact that the Romans referred to the Basques and their language as ancient! However, modern standard Basque – called Euskara Batua – dates from the Royal Academy of the Basque Language’s efforts in the 1960s and 1970s. This body – called Euskaltzaindia in Basque – is responsible for research and regulating the use of the Basque language from its headquarters in Bilbao. Another important body in the Basque world is the Instituto Vasco Etxepare. Headquartered in San Sebastián, it is charged with promoting Basque language and culture in the world.
The Catalan language is called Catalán in Spanish and Català in Catalan, and evolved from Latin between the 8th and 10th centuries. Today, there are over five million Catalan speakers in Catalunya and the Balearic Islands, where Catalan is a co-official language. The Institut d’Estudis Catalans (IEC) – headquartered in Barcelona – is responsible for regulating and researching the Catalan language in Catalunya and the Balearic Islands. The Institut Ramon Llull (IRC) – also headquartered in Barcelona – promotes Catalan language and culture in the world. They also award certificates to foreigners who demonstrate minimum levels of Catalan-language proficiency according to the ALTE scale.
Catalan is the native language of over 40% of Catalunya’s population and the day-to-day language of over 50%. This has been facilitated in recent years by the persistent efforts of the Generalitat (Catalunya’s government) to promote the Catalan language, including initiatives such as Voluntary Workers for Language (Voluntariat per la llengua), and the growth of Catalan media.
Galician is spoken by over 91% of the population in Galicia."
The Galician language is called Gallego in Spanish and Galego in Galician. Galician-Portuguese evolved from Latin, constituting a separate language in the 9th century, and diverging in the 14th century to become two languages.
According to the Instituto Galego de Estatística, Galician today is spoken by over 91% of the population, or over 2.5 million people, in Galicia – where it is a co-official language – and where more than 56% of the people use the language regularly. As part of their linguistic policies, the Xunta de Galicia organizes Galician-language classes and awards certificates to those who demonstrate minimum levels of proficiency in the Galician language.
Headquartered in A Coruña, the Real Academia Galega is responsible for regulating and researching the Galician language. Closely related to Portuguese, Galician is considered a language in its own right; however, a few people think it should be considered a dialect of Portuguese instead.
The Valencian language is called Valenciano in Spanish and Valencià in Valencian, and is spoken by two million people in the Valencian Community, where it is a co-official language. It should be noted that Catalans generally consider Valencian to be a dialect of Catalan while Valencians generally consider Valencian to be a language in its own right. This discrepancy is largely attributed to differences in the politics and nationalist expressions of each region. The Valencian language enjoys its own governing body, however: the Acadèmia Valenciana de la Llengua.
Other languages in Spain include: Aranese (Aranés in Spanish and Aranese), Asturian (Asturiano in Spanish and Bable in Asturian), Aragonese (Aragonés in both Spanish and Aragonese), Cantabrian (Cántabro in Spanish and Cántabru in Cantabrian), and Extremaduran (Extremeño in Spanish and Ehtremeñu in Extremaduran), which are spoken by relatively small numbers of people in Spain. While Aranese and Extremaduran are the only languages in this group that are designated as co-official in Spain (in the Aran Valley in Catalunya and Extremadura, respectively), the other languages do enjoy varying degrees of recognition. Asturian, for example, while not official, is a protected language and enjoys its own Academia de la Llingua Asturiana.
Learn a Few Words of Spain’s Main Official Languages
|English||Spanish||Basque||Catalan / Valencian||Galician|
|Good morning.||Buenos días.||Egunon.||Bon dia.||Bos días.|
|How are you?||¿Cómo está?||Zer moduz zande?||Com està?||Como está?|
|Do you speak English?||¿Habla inglés?||Inglesez hitz egiten al duzu?||Parla anglès?||Fala inglés?|
|Would you like to have a drink?||¿Le gustaría tomar algo?||Zerbait hartu nahi al duzu?||L’agradaria tomar algo?||Apetéceche tomar algo?|
Good news for expats living in Spain – it is, in fact, possible to change your pronunciation and accent as an adult. Whether your goal is to be better understood, less embarrassed, or even get them to stop asking you where you're from, feel the empowerment that comes from learning to choose the way you speak. Here are key tips and tricks from a professional expat accent coach.
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