In several regions in Spain people speak different languages
Everybody knows that people in Spain speak Spanish.
But is this really true?
When you are going to travel to Barcelona, Bilbao or Santiago de Compostela you will quickly notice, that people do not speak “Spanish” at all. And there is an easy explanation for it: Spain has several official languages.
The Castilian, the official language of Spain
What we refer to and consider as “Spanish language” is actually called Castilian (in Spanish “Castellano”). It is spoken in whole Spain as well as in South America. It belongs to the Roman languages and has gained high importance in the 18th century thanks to historic and socio-economic developments. From there the modern Spanish evolved and people still relate to it as Castilian. Today 100% of all Spaniards command it as first or second language, however there is a very small percentage of people, who do not use it in their daily life.
Spain declared Castilian – or “Spanish” – as official language for the whole country and 19 countries in South America did so as well. It is also declared standard language in all public media and bureaucracy, which is supported by the The Real Academia Española (Royal Spanish Academy or RAE).
So, when you learn Spanish, you will in fact study Castilian Spanish. And this is why you will surely question your Spanish skills when travelling to certain areas in Spain. Because you will think that you are well prepared, but suddenly local people talk to you in a completely different language and you will feel like you know no Spanish at all.
Other official languages of Spain
The reason for such experiences is, that there are more, co-official languages in Spain. This is due to the fact, that Spanish people do not have a consistent cultural background and therefore developed different ways to talk. However these language variations are not valid for the whole country, but rather co-official or recognised in their respective autonomous regions and people there are often bilingual. Those are:
Basque is spoken by the people in the Basque-speaking zone, consisting of Basque Country and northern Navarre. It is spoken by 27% of the people living in this area, which is 2% of the Spanish population.
Catalan is the official language of Catalonia in northeastern Spain and small parts of France. It is also co-official on the Balearic Islands and Valencia. It is spoken by 17% of all Spaniards. Also there are variations of Catalan, for example the Aranese dialect, which is common in the north western part of Catalonia and the Aran valley.
Galician is spoken by 2.4 million people, which is 7% of the Spanish people. It is official language in Galicia and dialect versions of Gallego are spoken in neighbouring regions such as Castille and León and Asturias.
So, please don’t be surprised when travelling to those areas, as you might have an encounter with a local person speaking those languages. But do not worry, Spanish – or Castilian – still remains the official one, so you will be able to communicate everywhere when speaking it.
Additionally, just in case you didn’t know: The Canary Islands are basically one of the best destinations to learn and practise Spanish (if not even THE best destination). It is situated between Spain and South America and locals speak a clear form of Castilian as well as many other Spanish and South American dialects. It’s a perfect opportunity to experience all aspects of the Spanish language.
And if somebody asks you “What is the official language in Spain”, you will now know the response!
If you need more information about Spain and learn Spanish, our blog is full of posts with Spanish learning websites, the best way to learn Spanish and more information.
All the best,
Your SMS Spanish Experience Team