Spain’s Array of Languages

If you’re planning a trip to Spain, you may have already started brushing up on your Spanish to help you get around while you’re there. But did you know that in Spain, Spanish is not the only spoken language, nor is it the only official one? The array of languages is a result of the various kingdoms and territories that are now united as present-day Spain. Depending on where you travel in this culturally rich and diverse Southern European country, you may find yourself around people speaking any of the following:

Aranese

This Romance language is co-official alongside Spanish and Catalan in Val d’Aran, also known as the Aran Valley in northwestern Spain. Once considered to be an endangered language, Aranese is now experiencing a renaissance with an increase in speakers. About 90 percent of people living in Val d'Aran can understand Aranese, though only about 65 percent can speak it. However, since 1984 has been taught bilingually with Spanish in schools of that region.

Basque

Also known as “Euskara”, this language is spoken by an estimated 663,035 people living in the Basque and Navarre parts of northern Spain, where it hold co-official status with Spanish. Interestingly, it is the only official language of Spain that is not a Romance language.

Catalan

Catalan is another Romance language. It holds co-official status with Spanish in Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and Valencia, where it is referred to as Valencian instead of Catalan. You’ll also find it spoken in parts of Aragon and Murcia, though it does not hold official status there. If you are visiting Barcelona, it is interesting to note that between 50 and 60 percent of the city’s inhabitants speak Catalan (though most in addition to Spanish).

Galician

This Romance language is co-official with Spanish in Galicia. It is also spoken in some areas of the neighboring Asturias and Castile and Léon, as well as by various migrant communities throughout the rest of the country. About 3 million people are estimated to speak Galician.

Aragonese

This is a Romance language that does not hold any official status in Spain, but it is recognized and spoken by between 10,000 and 30,000 people in the valleys of the Pyrenees in Aragón.

Asturian

Asturian is a Romance language spoken in the region of Asturias in mostly rural areas. In a 1994 census there were over 450,000 speakers of Asturian, but the number has since decreased. The language does not hold official status, but it nevertheless is a protected language and is an optional language in Asturian schools.

Leonese

This refers more to a group of Romance dialects rather than an actual language, similar to Asturian. Leonese is spoken in the northern and western areas of the Léon region (what is now the provinces of León, Zamora and Salamanca). Though the Leonese dialects do not have official status (it is recognized and protected, however), the current number of speakers of Leonese is estimated to be between about 20,000 and 50,000 people.

Fala

This Romance language is like a cross between Portuguese and Galician (along with some Leonese influences), and for good reason. More than half of the roughly 10,500 speakers of Fala live in a valley of the northwestern part of Extremadura near the border with Portugal. Portuguese is spoken in this area as well.

Extremaduran

About 200,000 people are estimated to speak this unofficial Romance language. Like its name suggests, Extremaduran is spoken in Extremadura, but also in parts of nearby Salamanca.

Arabic

Yes, there are many Arabic speakers in Spain as well, more so than many other languages spoken by people with origins outside of Spain, and many say that Arabic has had a noticeable influence on the Spanish spoken in the country. In Southern Spain you will even come across certain road signs in Arabic. This is largely because the Iberian Peninsula was conquered and occupied for a long time by Moorish Muslims from Northern Africa. The Moors eventually left, but the language stayed.

English

The number of people living in Spain who speak English has risen dramatically over the years, and there are now approximately 10,400,000 speakers, both native and non-native due to the high number of English-speaking immigrants. English is also the general language used by Spain’s tourism industry when it comes to foreign tourists.

Keep in mind that you’ll probably be able to get around just fine speaking Spanish or even English, but even so, don’t be “one of those” tourists who assumes that everyone speaks their language. If you really want to get to know the culture of different areas, it may help to pick up a few words of Spain’s other languages. Respecting the locals of any culture goes a long way in terms of how they treat you, and what kind of experience you have.

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