What do Spaniards speak?

What kind of stupid question is that? Spaniards speak Spanish! Duh!

Well…kind of. As you might have guessed 99% of Spaniards do speak Spanish, but what about their native language? Is it also Spanish for 99% of Spain’s population? No 😀 *dramatic pause*

Based on a 2005 survey (ok, this is admittedly an outdated source, but it serves its purpose here), 89% of Spaniards speak Spanish as their native language. And no, there’s not a typo there, so what happens with the other 11%? Do they all have foreign roots? Nop. What happens here is that several of Spain’s regions or ‘autonomous communities’, as they’re actually called, have other official languages besides Spanish. Let’s find out more about them in the following paragraphs 😉


Image: freepik.com

The other languages of Spain

They are 4 other official languages in Spain: Catalan/Valencian, Basque, Galician and Aranese. You’ve probably never heard about the last one (just as half Spaniards, actually), but maybe the first two ring a bell.

Besides these ones, there are other languages or dialects which are recognized in their respective regions up to a certain point, although none of them is actually official. Most well-known ones are Aragonese and Asturian/Leonese.

You should also know that under Franco’s regime (1939-1975) these languages were not allowed to be used in public as they were seen as a symbol of regional nationalism. This contributed greatly to their weakening since they were restricted only to private and clandestine environments. However, repression started to smooth out during the 60s.


Image: wikimedia.org

Catalan (Català)

  • Official in: The autonomous community of Catalonia, in the Balearic Islands (where party lovers find Ibiza and Majorca) and in the Valencian Community under the name of Valencian. It’s also the only official language in Andorra and happens to be spoken in the Italian city of Alghero, in Sardinia.
  • Number of speakers: 3,750,000 in Spain as L1, 5,150,000 counting L2 users (Ethnologue)
  • Language family: Indo-european. Romance language. Western Occitano-Romance. Closely related to Spanish and French and Occitan, spoken in Southern France.

In the Valencian Community it’s sometimes considered as a separate language referred to as Valencian. Some consider it just a dialect of Catalan, so there’s a little bit of a debate over that. Truth is it’s fairly similar and intelligible for a Catalan speaker.

If you’re interested in practicing Catalan I’ve shared (and I will probably add more) some resources here, since it’s a language I’ve more or less learned myself.

Sample vocabulary (Catalan – French – Spanish)

  • Thank you (Catalan – gràcies, French – merci, Spanish – gracias)
  • Apple (Catalan – poma, French – pomme, Spanish – manzana)
  • Table (Catalan – taula, French – table, Spanish – mesa)
  • Old (Catalan – vell/a, French – vieux/vieille, Spanish – viejo/a)

Basque (Euskara)

  • Official in: The autonomous region of the Basque Country and basque-speaking part of Navarre. It’s also spoken in the South-West part of France in the department of Pyrénées-Atlantiques.
  • Number of speakers468,000 in Spain (Ethnologue)
  • Language family: Isolated language. Unknown origin.

Sounds weird, but this language is considered to be isolated because so far linguists haven’t been able to find any other related one. It certainly has nothing to do with the other languages spoken in Spain and together with Finnish, Hungarian, Estonian, Turkish, Georgian and Maltese it’s one of the few languages found in Europe which doesn’t belong to the Indo-european branch of languages.

Around a 32% of people in the areas where it’s spoken are actually bilingual in both Basque and Spanish in the Basque Country and around 11% in Navarre.

Sample vocabulary

  • Hello (Basque – kaixo, Spanish – hola)
  • Good morning (Basque – egun on, Spanish – buenos días)
  • Thank you (Basque – eskerrik asko, Spanish – gracias)
  • Goodbye (Basque – agur, Spanish – adiós)

Galician (Galego)

  • Official in: The autonomous community of Galicia.
  • Number of speakers: 2,340,000 in Spain (Ethnologue)
  • Language family: Indo-european. Romance language. Western Ibero-Romance. Closely related to Spanish and Portuguese.

This language used to form one single linguistic unity with Portuguese called Old Portuguese, Medieval Galician or Galician-Portuguese back in the Middle Ages which explains why they’re so similar. Later they started to diverge when Portugal became its own kingdom and Galicia stayed in the Kingdom of León. Centuries later, Galician started to coexist along with Spanish which fostered the adoption of quite a lot of Spanish words which Portuguese didn’t get.

Nowadays it’s the most frequent language outside the big cities, where Spanish is still predominant.

Sample vocabulary (Galician – Portuguese – Spanish)

  • Welcome (Galician – benvido, Portuguese – bem-vindo, Spanish – bienvenido)
  • Brother (Galician – irmao, Portuguese – irmão, Spanish – hermano)
  • Dog (Galician – can, Portuguese – cão, Spanishperro)
  • Old (Galician – vello/a, Portuguese – velho/a, Spanish – viejo/a)


  • Official in: The autonomous community of Catalonia, specifically in the Aran Valley (Val d’Aran).
  • Number of speakers: Around 4,700 in Catalonia (Wikipedia)
  • Language family: Indo-european. Romance language. Western Occitano-Romance. Closely related to Spanish, French and Catalan.

Aranese is actually a standardized form of the variety of the Occitan language spoken in the area. This is definitely the least well-known of these languages since its number of speakers is very reduced and it did not become an official language in Catalonia until 2006.

Most of the Vall d’Aran’s inhabitants can understand the language, although the percentage of people who can actually speak, read or write it are quite lower getting to only 34% of them being able to correctly write.

Sample vocabulary (Aranese – Catalan – Spanish)

  • Church (Aranese – glèsia, Catalan – església, Spanish – iglesia)
  • Party (Aranese – hèsta, Catalan – festa, Spanish – fiesta)
  • Honey (Aranese – meu, Catalan – mel, Spanish – miel)
  • Fire (Aranese – huec, Catalan – foc, Spanish – fuego)

Did you know about all these languages before reading the post? Share your thoughts in the comments down below!

Further info

Languages of SpainCatalan, ValencianBasqueGalicianAranese.

Disclaimer: I’m not a native English speaker, therefore you might find weird-sounding/looking sentences or downright wrong stuff.



Hi! My name is Bea and I love languages! That's why I blog about anything related to them that crosses my mind right here at Anything but Language. Hope you enjoy it!
  • Víktor Bautista i Roca
  • Finally someone talking about this!

    I was in Valencia for 2 weeks in a random village for a guitar festival. I asked a lot of people about this. The basic consensus was it’s completely the same language just a few variant things similar to American and British English, but the reason they keep referring to it as Valenciano is for regional nationalism purposes. They don’t want to lose their identity as autonomous people.

    If you watch this video and start at 5:50 and keep watching this amazing old lady in red really lays it down. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-m7z4kI_W8

    What the Valencians also weren’t happy about is the fact that they feel the Catalans are just taking over and absorbing them in themselves. This is controversial of course, and you can delete this comment, but I’m just repeating what I saw haha. Very interesting.

    • Bea

      Wow, I was really surprised to see how angry the old woman got when she realized the girl interviewing them was speaking Catalan. What surprises me even more is that this looks quite old, at least from the 90s. I wonder what’s the general feeling today.

      I have a Catalan friend who says Valencian is basically just a Catalan dialect, which I guess is a common opinion among Catalans, even though this friend of mine is not nationalistic at all. It’s probably just an objective linguistic opinion, and based on what I’ve seen, I tend to agree with it.

      I wouldn’t draw a comparison with American and British English because the difference between those two are mainly in vocabulary and pronunciation, grammar words tend to be exactly the same. In the case of Valencian and Catalan the change is deeper than just vocabulary. I think verb conjugations can be slightly different, some pronouns as well and probably some other things.

      Of course, speakers of both variants can understand each other perfectly well most of the time, but as always, this kind of debate which should only be a linguistic one ends up being a political one which makes things escalate quickly and eventually you get a super angry woman like the one in the video.

      Anyway, thanks a lot for the video and the comment! 🙂

      • Yeah it’s pretty intense. I do love the flair she has. It’s so “Spanish” and just reminds me of my time there this summer, in a good way. It’s funny though because right after that in the video, it goes into pro-Catala things.

        It’s odd because I think there’s no general consensus on this one, as a lady I was talking to is a native Spanish speaker that learned Valenciano for her job and her outlook on the two “languages” was as you described with AM-Eng and Brit-Eng so I think we’ll have to look for expert opinions. Sans politics is a bit difficult!

        I’m glad you talked about this! Hope you can expand further on this one day!

        • Bea

          I wonder what that Spanish flair is! haha

          I’d certainly be interesting to expand on it. I’ll have to ask the next Valencian I meet 🙂