Everything About the Spanish Language

By OptiLingo • 12 minute read

Find out everything about the Spanish language

Spanish Is an Exciting Language

Spanish isn’t just an awesome language. It’s also very important. It’s one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. Plus, it’s not even that hard to learn. So, if you want to join the huge global community of Spanish speakers, you easily can. To motivate you a bit, here’s every fact and figure about the Spanish language. Discover the history, current use, grammar, pronunciation, alphabet, and importance of Spanish.

What Do We Mean By the Spanish Language?

First of all, we need to discuss that there’s no Spanish language. Even in Spain, there are five major dialects in the country: Castilian, Galician, Asturian, Basque, and Catalan. Of these, Castilian is the most common with 72% of the people speaking this dialect. But, the rest of Spain’s population speaks Castilian as a second language.

So, when we refer to Spanish, we really mean Castilian, as this is the dialect that started what is today one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. But, we’ll talk more about other dialects later.

How Many People Speak Spanish?

Over 477 million people speak Spanish as their mother tongue. This makes Spanish the second largest language in terms of native speakers. But, we also can’t forget about the 95 million people in the world who speak Spanish as a second language. This means that there are 572 million Spanish speakers in the world.

Where Is Spanish an Official Language?

Spanish isn’t just widely spoken in terms of population. The number of countries which have Spanish as an official language is also extremely large. Spanish is the official language of 21 countries.

Where is Spanish an official language

Argentina
Bolivia
Chile
Colombia
Costa Rica
Cuba
Dominican Republic
Ecuador
Equatorial Guinea
El Salvador
Guatemala
Honduras
Mexico
Nicaragua
Panama
Paraguay
Peru
Puerto Rico
Spain
Uruguay
Venezuela

You may have noticed that we included Puerto Rico, even though it’s a United States territory technically. But, the Spanish speaking population in the United States is also extremely important. Spanish is the second most common home-language in the US after English. Approximately 50 million US citizens speak Spanish. That’s more than several of these countries listed above combined.

There are also other countries with Significant Spanish speaking communities. Apart from the countries mentioned so far, there are 22 others with at least 3 million Spanish speaking population. These are countries like Brasil or the Philippines.

It’s also worth mentioning that Spanish is one of the six official UN languages, and it’s an official language of the European Union as well.

What Language Family Is Spanish In?

Spanish is a Romance language, and part of the Indo-European language family. When we take a closer look into the language family of the Spanish language, we can identify it as an Ibero-Romance language. This means that it’s most closely related to Portuguese and Catalan. But, Spanish is also closely related to French, Italian, and Romanian.

Spanish is a Romance language

History of the Spanish Language

Just like all Romance languages, Spanish developed from Vulgar Latin. This language arrived in the region through the spread of the Roman Empire. But, the influences on the Spanish language throughout its history are different than any other Romance language. So, let’s take a look at the language’s history to find out what makes Spanish unique.

The Start of Regional Dialects in Spain

Vulgar Latin broke up into regional dialects within the Iberian peninsula. And these dialects spread far apart to be considered separate languages. 9th-century documents prove the evolution of Castilian from Vulgar Latin. The origin of this dialect can be traced back to the Northern Spanish province of Castilla.

By the 13th century, Castilian was an established dialect. At that time, Latin was the common language of administration throughout Europe. But, King Alfonso el Sabio wanted to move away from that and standardize the written form of Spanish based on the Toledo accent.

the Arabic influence on the Spanish language

Arabic Influence on the Spanish Language

From the 8th century, Arabic speaking Muslim communities occupied the peninsula. This was called Al-Andalus. As they were forced out by the “Reconquista” by the 14th century, the only thing they left behind was their architecture and pieces of their language.

Mozarabic, a Romance dialect with Arabic loanwords, became highly influential in the Spanish language. So, these Arabic loanwords were very common in Castilian Spanish. In fact, this influence is still relevant today. Around 8% of modern Spanish vocabulary has words of Arabic origin. Some common ones are:

  • ojalá – I hope – from the Arabic “law sha allah” (if God should want)
  • azúcar – sugar – from the Arabic “as-succar”
  • almohada – pillow – from the Arabic “al-mojada”

It’s safe to say that most Spanish words that begin with “al-” have Arabic origins. “Al” is the definite article in the Arabic language.

Discovering America and the Spanish Empire

After the discovery of the American continent in 1492, Spain became the leading nation to send explorers and conquests from Europe. The Spanish Empire grow to hold most of the American Continent, the Spanish East Indies (aka the Philippines), and some parts of Africa. With these conquests, the Spanish language spread far and wide.

Spanish Empire

One of the most important of these is present-day is Mexico. Mexico has the highest Spanish speaking population for any one country in the world. There are over 120 million people who all share the Mexican dialect of Spanish as their native language.

Spanish Dialects

Even in Spain, there are vast differences in dialects of the language. So, since the Spanish language is official in 21 countries, it’s easy to see how they all have their own dialects. Although they all started out from Castilian Spanish, they’re all unique based on their individual language history.

Some say that there are 10 dialects of Spanish. But, there are of course regional differences even inside one country’s dialect. The easiest and most common way to differentiate one Spanish from another is to divide them into European Spanish and Latin American Spanish.

Today, there are recognizable differences between Iberian Spanish and Mexican Spanish in terms of accent and pronunciation. And there are a lot of vocabulary differences as well. Still, the written form of the language as well as its grammar is relatively the same.

It’s very important to note that Spanish dialects are mutually intelligible. So, a Spanish speaker from Madrid can have a conversation with someone from Mexico City. Just like someone from Scotland can talk to someone from Canada.

English Meaning

European Spanish

Mexican Spanish

potato
patata
papa
computer
ordenador
computadora
car
coche
auto/carro/coche
pen
bolígrafo
pluma

Which Dialect of Spanish Should I Learn First?

Although the different Spanish dialects can vastly vary, there’s not much difference for beginners of Spanish. Whether you want to learn the European Spanish dialect of Castilian, or you want to give one of the Latin American Spanish dialects a go, the only real difference is the vocabulary. And whichever you want to learn, they’re all mutually intelligible. So, wherever you go with your Spanish knowledge, you’ll be understood by the locals.

Is Spanish Close to English

Since Spanish is a Romance language, English native speakers can easily recognise and understand most Spanish vocabulary.

Spanish Alphabet and Writing System

The Spanish language uses Latin letters, just like English. So, for native English speakers, mastering the Spanish alphabet will be a piece of cake. There is only one extra letter in the Spanish alphabet that doesn’t exist in English, and that’s ñ. So, overall, there are 27 letters in the Spanish alphabet.

A a
B b
C c
D d
E e
F f
G g
H h
I i
J j
K k
L l
M m
N n
Ñ ñ
O o
P p
Q q
R r
S s
T t
U u
V v
W w
X x
Y y
Z z

But, even though the letters look familiar, their pronunciation is vastly different at times. Read on to find out the most important differences in the pronunciation of Spanish letters.

It’s also worth mentioning one unique aspect of Spanish in writing. In Spanish, if you want to ask a question, you need to put an inverted question mark in front of the question: ⟨¿⟩. Then, the sentence ends with a regular question mark like normal. The same thing applies when you use an exclamation mark. You need to put an inverted exclamation mark at the beginning of the sentence: ⟨¡⟩.

  • Where were you? – ¿Dónde estabas?
  • I was at the store. – ¡Estaba en la tienda!

Spanish Vowels and Accents

As you’re reading Spanish, you may occasionally stumble upon vowels with accents on top like: á, é, í, ó, ú, and ü. These are variants of the vowel they look like most. The accents signal pronunciaiton differences or they separate words that look similar otherwise.

Pronouncing Spanish Letters

Before the list of pronunciation rules in Spanish, it’s worth mentioning that this varies betwen different Spanish dialects. So, while these rules are common in Castilian, Mexican Spanish does them differently. But, this can still give you a taste of how different the Spanish pronunciation is from English. Here are the most important Spanish pronunciation rules that are different and unique to the language.

  • V = B: When you see a “v”, it’s actually pronounced the same way as “b”. 
  • Rolled R: A striking feature of Spanish is the rolled “r” sound
  • C = TH before “i” or “e”, C = K everywhere else (In Mexican Spanish C = S before “i” and “e”)
  • H is silent
  • I = EE like in the word “meet”
  • Y = EE 
  • E = EH like in the word “hello”
  • LL = Y like in the wors “yes”
  • Z = TH (in Castilian), Z = S (in Mexican Spanish)
  • G: the letter “g” behaves differently depending on what follows after it:
    • Raspy English H before “i” or “e”
    • Hard G before “a”, “o”, and “u”
  • J is the same raspy H

Does Spanish Have Genders?

Yes, Spanish has two genders: masculine and feminine. This is a completely new concept to native English speakers, but actually, most Indo-European languages have genders.

The genders in Spanish influence the noun, and therefore any other grammatical concept that relates to nouns. So, the articles and adjectives need to change their form to fit the gender and the number of the noun.

Spanish has two genders

Is Spanish Hard to Learn?

Not at all. For native English speakers, mastering the Spanish language is easy. It’s actually one of the easiest foreign languages to learn. And we’re not the only ones who say this.

According to the US Foreign Service Institute, Spanish is a Category 1 language. So, it’s just as easy to learn as French or German would be. They estimate that an average English native speaker would need 600 hours of study to reach fluency.

But, you can actually make learning Spanish easier and faster with the right learning method. Language learning should never be boring. It should always be exciting and engaging. But, it should also help you progress steadily. No matter how fun a language learning game is, it’s not effective if you can’t comfortably speak the language to locals.

Why Learn Spanish as a Second Language

There are so many reasons to learn Spanish. Speaking a second language looks amazing on a CV. Your chances of getting a better job or securing bigger pay are higher. And traveling to Spanish speaking countries becomes easier too if you speak the language. And, we know, there are a lot of Spanish speaking countries out there. You can talk to locals, navigate better, and discover hidden spots no normal tourist can. 

Not to mention the mental health benefits being bilingual can provide. If you speak a second language you can fight dementia and Alzheimer’s better at old age. It’s also an amazing accomplishment to reach fluency in a foreign language. So, you can feel confident and proud of yourself for achieving it.

Why Learning Spanish Is Important in the US

But, if you live in the United States, there are even more reasons to learn Spanish. There are 50 million Spanish speakers in the US. And this number is growing. By 2060, the US is projected to have 120 million Spanish speaking population. So, chances are, you already know someone who speaks Spanish, whether as a native or second language. And if you speak it too, you won’t just communicate with them better. You can connect to your family, colleagues, and friends on a much deeper level.

While most US high schools try to offer Spanish education, it’s most often not successful. Whether it’s the classroom setting or the teenage hormones, most students write off learning languages for the rest of their lives. But, learning in a classroom setting is very stressful. You need a stress-free environment to achieve language learning success. So, don’t give up on learning Spanish just yet. After all, learning Spanish is extremely easy, and relying on everyone learning English isn’t the global mindset America was founded on.

Learn the Spanish Language Easily With the Best App

If you’re learning a second language, you need to make sure you do it the easiest and fastest way possible. Because causing yourself extra work will only make you quit learning. But, if you have a great method that gets you to fluency without it making it feel like work, you can easily learn Spanish. If you’re looking for exactly that, you need to try OptiLingo.

OptiLingo is a convenient app that has the most common Spanish words and phrases. So, you only learn what real Spanish speaking locals speak. Nothing more, so you can really dial in on the essentials and save valuable study time. OptiLingo is your best choice to learn Spanish, because it also teaches you how to say these common phrases. When the time comes, you’ll speak fluently and comfortably in Spanish. Achieve your dreams of learning a second language by downloading OptiLingo!