The Five Languages Of Spain

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So, you’ve decided to learn Spanish, but did you know about the five languages of Spain? That’s right, “Spanish” isn’t just Spanish. In fact, there is a specific name for the “Spanish” you’re learning. But, don’t panic. The Spanish you are learning is spoken throughout the country, so they’ll still understand you even if you’re not familiar with the other languages. But, before we dive into describing what these languages are, here are the names of the languages of Spain.

  • Castilian
  • Galician
  • Basque
  • Catalan
  • Aranese/Occitan

These are the five official languages of Spain. Now, although they have different names, they all have similar roots. Of course, they all share the Latin root, but if you listen to them, you’ll find that some of them sound similar to their neighbouring countries. Essentially, you can match Castilian and Galician because they sound similar and share the same neighbour. Portugal. And you can match Catalan and Aranese/Occitan because they also share the same neighbour. France. However, the Basque language is entirely different because it’s mostly isolated, thanks to the Pyrenees Mountains. Here, we’ll show you.

A map of the four languages of Spain.
A map of Spain highlighting the five languages of Spain.

On this map, you may have noticed other lesser-known languages, like Asturian and Aragonese, but they’re not officially classed as languages in Spain. So, we’re not classing these as languages either. Of course, you’ll also notice that Aranese/Occitan occupies a small area on the map. Don’t worry, there’s a reason for that, but we’ll talk about that later. Now that you know where these languages stem from, it’s time we learned what the differences are.

Castilian – The Biggest Of The Five Languages Of Spain

As you can see from the map, Castilian is the language with the largest area. It’s the most common Spanish language in the world since Latin America relies on Castilian. Of course, there are varying dialects of Castilian, but whether you’re in the north of Spain, the south of Spain or even in South and Central America, you can easily recognise it. And, out of all the languages in Spain, it’s the easiest to learn. Not only that, but it’s widely spread too. Even in the areas where the other languages are more prominent, they’ll still be able to speak and understand Castilian. So, you can relax. If you can’t speak their language, they’ll speak yours.

Galician – More Portuguese Than Spanish

If you ever travel to the northwest part of Spain, you’ll find the Galicia area. It is probably one of the only areas in Spain that Portugal heavily influences. That’s why you’ll find a lot of the Spanish spoken there sound more Portuguese.

The only reason why is that the Galicia area used to be a part of Portugal in Spain’s medieval era. And over the years, it became part of the Spanish territory. However, the community kept much of its Portuguese influence, including the spelling and vocabulary in its dialect. So, if you’re learning Portuguese as well, you might want to visit the Galician area to practice both languages.

Basque – The Oldest And Unrelated

The Basque area of Spain is one of the oldest, and thus, its language is also one of the oldest. It’s also known as Euskara and has no generic relation to the other Spanish languages. In fact, while the others are referred to as “Romance languages”, Euskara or Basque has ties to the old Moorish and medieval era of Spain.

Not only that, but it’s a completely isolated area thanks to the Pyrenees Mountains that lie to the north. While it may contain some Castilian words and sound similar to it, if you listen closely, you can hear how different it is from the other languages of Spain. In fact, it sounds more Arabic than Spanish. This is most likely because of the Middle Eastern influences that swept through Europe during the medieval period.

Catalan – The Confused One

Of the five languages of Spain, Catalan might be the second most prominent language or the second most well-known. This is because you’ll find it in the Barcelona region, one of Spain’s most visited areas. Its influence comes from across the Pyrenees Mountains in France. Of course, it does sound like Castilian Spanish, but if you listen closely, some words and phrases sound nothing like Castilian Spanish.

You may even find yourself backtracking and asking yourself, “¿qué?”. You’ll also find that some French speakers can even understand Catalan because it borrows a lot of their words. But unlike Galician, don’t expect to practice both your French and Spanish easily because some Catalan words are not in either language. So, you might have some difficulties when you try to translate your sentences.

Aranese/Occitan – The Language Of The Mountains

Aranese or Occitan is used in the Pyrenees Mountains, mainly in the Gascon region. It is the most French-sounding language in all of Spain, so if you are looking to practice both your Spanish and French, Aranese is probably the closest language you’ll get to being able to practice both.

And of course, in the Gascon region, you’ll find that instead of Castilian or Catalan, most signs in the area will be in Occitan, since it covers the Pyrenees Mountains, which stretches across the borders of Spain and France. So, although you might see a tiny area of Spain using Occitan, it’s actually used across the border amongst the Pyrenees mountains. Because of this, it’s not always recognised as an official Spanish language.

Listen And Learn

Now that you know about the five languages of Spain, why not have a go at listening to each one, and try to find the differences. See if you can understand them and if you can pick out any Castilian, Portuguese or French words. And if you’re interested in learning any of them, or all of them, many good websites, apps and language classes can help you. But, of course, the best practice is none other than speaking with the natives. They know the language best and how to translate them.

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