Wandering the streets of Spain, you know Spanish is the main language you’ll see on street signs and hear rolling off the locals’ tongues.
But is it the only native language spoken in Spain? 🤔
Not by a long shot.
This country has a rich and storied history, one that can be told in many co-official, recognized, and unofficial regional languages.
While learning Spanish in Spain, you may hear linguistic gems like Basque, Galician, or even Aranese mixed in with the European Spanish you expect.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the lesser-known languages you can listen out for during your next trip to Spain.
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So, What Are the Main Languages Spoken in Spain (Besides Spanish)?
First, you should know that Spanish is the only language that is official across the entire country of Spain.
We can categorize the others as either co-official, recognized, or unofficial regional languages.
Note: This is not an exhaustive list of every language spoken in Spain. It is just to give you an idea of some of the regional languages you may hear and which category they fall into.
|Co-Official Languages||Recognized Languages||Unofficial Languages|
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Regional languages in Spain
Let’s get into the specifics of these languages, from key facts and examples to the ways they’ve been preserved through the generations.
Galego is spoken in Galicia, an autonomous community in northwestern Spain with around 2.7 million people.
This language is more reminiscent of Portuguese than Spanish. It often has a somewhat musical cadence, similar to some Italian accents.
In Galicia, Galego is co-official alongside Spanish. It is spoken with pride in Galician homes and taught in most schools.
Most Galician children are bilingual, especially in rural areas. In smaller villages, Galego may be the primary language children speak with their teachers and friends at school.
However, this wasn’t always the case.
After Francisco Franco won the Spanish Civil War, he banned the public use of Galician and other regional languages.
When his regime ended, Galicians worked hard to revive the language. However, Spanish remains dominant in larger cities like La Coruña.
To give you an idea of how this language looks, here are some examples of Galician words and phrases and how they compare to Spanish.
|Bos días||Buenos días||Good morning|
|Que teñas un bo día||Que tengas un buen día||Have a nice day|
One beautiful word in Galego is morriña. It’s a noun that means the feeling of sadness or longing you experience when you’re homesick.
Catalan is spoken by around 10 million people within and outside of Spain.
The language is co-official in Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, where a dialect called Balear is spoken, and Valencia, where people speak a dialect called Valenciano.
Interestingly, Catalan is also the only official language of Andorra. It is also considered semi-official in the Italian city of Alghero.
Even in larger cities like Barcelona, Catalan is common to hear spoken between locals.
It is also taught as a mandatory subject in schools and appears everywhere from restaurant menus to news programs.
As a non-native speaker, you can take intensive Catalan classes if you’d like to learn to speak it.
However, the people you’d speak with in Catalan will most likely be bilingual in Spanish.
The two languages are relatively similar, but some people find it tricky to understand Catalan if you they only speak Spanish.
Catalan resembles French in some cases, which makes sense given the geographic proximity to France.
Here are some words and phrases to give you an idea of how Spanish and Catalan compare.
|Si us plau||Por favor||Please|
|Anem al restaurant.||Vamos al restaurante.||Let’s go to the restaurant.|
To learn some other similarities and differences between Spanish and Catalan, check out our post on that topic right here.
Basque, or Euskara, is a co-official language spoken in the Basque Country, a northern autonomous community known as Pais Vasco.
It may come as a surprise, but Basque is nothing like Spanish. 🤯
Euskara is a language isolate, meaning it does not originate from any other languages and is the sole member of its language family.
Around one in four people in the Basque Country, and one in 10 people in the region of Navarre, speak Basque bilingually.
This is only around 750,000 people in total. Given that the number of speakers is under one million, Euskara is considered an endangered language.
This is partially a result of linguistic suppression during Franco’s regime in Spain. It could also be because Basque is considered one of the hardest languages to learn.
However, people interested in learning Basque can attend a barnetegi. This is the name for language immersion programs where the instructors only communicate in Euskara.
And to give you an idea of just how different this language is from anything else, here are some examples of Basque words and phrases.
|Eskerrik asko||Gracias||Thank you|
|Zein ordutan ikusiko dugu elkar?||A qué hora nos vemos?||What time should we meet?|
If Euskara makes you want to dive back into the comfort of learning Spanish, take a look at some of the best online Spanish courses to try this year.
Aranese was declared the third co-official language of Catalonia in 2010.
Only around 5,000 people speak Aranese, so it is considered an endangered language.
It is a form of the Occitan language spoken in Val d’Aran, a part of Catalonia near the border shared between France and Spain.
The language sounds similar to Spanish and Catalan.
Many speakers of these languages say they can understand Aranese when they see or hear it, even if they don’t speak it themselves.
Here are some Aranese words and phrases to give you an idea of how this language compares to others.
|Bon jorn||Buenos días||Good morning|
|Bona nueit||Buenas noches||Good evening|
The population of Aranese speakers may be small, but they are working to revive the language with significant progress.
It is taught bilingually with Spanish in the school system of Val d’Aran, and various news outlets in the area publish articles in Aranese.
Aragonese is a recognized language spoken in Aragon, in valleys surrounding the Pyrenees.
As only around 12,000 people speak the language, Aragonese is considered endangered.
The various dialects of Aragonese share some similarities with Spanish, Catalan, and some other regional languages in Spain.
Here are some words in Aragonese and their meanings in Spanish and English.
|Chipiarse||Mojarse||To get wet|
Asturleonese is a recognized language spoken in various autonomous communities in northwestern Spain.
The language Asturleonese may look unfamiliar to some. 🧐
That’s because it is basically an umbrella term that represents several dialects.
Some of these include Leonese, Cantabrian, Asturian, and a dialect spoken in Portugal called Mirandese.
Together, these dialects are spoken by around 700,000 people, meaning Asturleonese is an endangered language.
Here is a word in each of the Spanish dialects of Asturleonese to give you an idea of how they compare to Spanish.
|Dialect of Asturleonese||Example||Spanish||English translation|
|Cantabrian (Cántabru)||Acaldar||Recoger||To tidy up|
Extremaduran is an unofficial language spoken in the autonomous communities of Extremadura and Castile and León.
It is technically considered a group of dialects similar to the Asturleonese dialects.
Extremaduran is at significant risk of extinction, as most of its speakers are members of older generations.
Many people don’t consider Extremaduran a “real” language. Instead, they categorize it as a version of spoken Spanish.
Interestingly, the first film ever produced entirely in the Extremaduran language came out in 2013.
Its name can give you an idea of how Extremaduran compares to Spanish:
Territoriu de bandolerus (Territory of Bandits)
Gomeran Whistle (Silbo Gomero)
Gomeran Whistle is a whistled language developed to communicate across long distances in La Gomera in the Canary Islands.
The language transforms Spanish words by converting syllables into specific whistling sounds. 🕊️
Different frequencies, pitches, and other qualities set the sounds apart. This allows them to represent different vowels and consonants.
This approach helps inhabitants of La Gomera relay messages from several kilometers away.
Of course, Silbo Gomero is an unofficial language. However, recent initiatives have helped ensure children learn the language as a part of their education.
Because of this, only the older and younger generations can speak the language, but almost everyone on the island can understand it.
Now, as you can imagine, Silbo Gomero is a loud language.
So, its speakers mainly use it to communicate about events and other information concerning the general public.
Today, you can experience this language through whistling demonstrations on the island of La Gomera.
Why not learn a regional language in Spain?
Of the 21 countries where Spanish is an official language, Spain is a fascinating destination for language enthusiasts.📍
There is so much to explore, whether you want to learn a language in Spain or simply observe how locals communicate.
Many of Spain’s regional languages are similar to Spanish.
So, it’s fairly easy for Spanish speakers to add one of these rare languages to their repertoire.
Plus, new speakers learning these languages is crucial to their survival in the future.
What experiences have you had with the regional languages in Spain?
Let us know in the comments section below!