After reading our previous post “Places you didn’t know they speak Spanish” you might have wondered if all Spanish speakers (more than 500 million people) understand each other.

Also, if you want to learn Spanish in Colombia you might wonder whether you would be able to communicate with others when traveling to Spain.

The simple answer to both questions is yes!

We all understand each other and if you learn Spanish in Colombia you will be able to communicate with any other Spanish Speaker.

However, keep in mind that the language varies greatly from one country to another.

It reaches so many different peoples and cultures; which makes each country and region have its own dialects, accents and expressions.

A linguist called Albert Marckwardt called this process the “colonial lag”. It means that the current state of a language spoken in new colonies did not evolve in the same way as the language in its country of origin. This could explain why the words and phrases people use in Colombia are different from those used in Spain.

If you want to know how the Spanish language has evolved read our post “The Spanish language: history, evolution and influences

Before entering into the differences it is important to note that “Spanish from Colombia” normally refers to the standard dialect spoken in Bogota. And, “Spanish from Spain” normally refers to “Castilian Spanish”.

Since the dialects spoken in the various regions of Colombia and Spain are quite diverse, those terms are more geographical than linguistic relevance.

Having said this, let’s now move to the differences!

Top 5 differences between Spanish from Colombia and Spanish Spain

1. Pronunciation

One of the greatest differences you might hear is regarding the pronunciation of the ‘z’ and ‘c’.

In Spain, ‘z’ is pronounced like ‘th’ in English. While in Colombia, ‘z’ is always pronounced like ‘s’.

The same goes for a “c” when it comes before an “e” or an “i”.

In Spain, the sound of the letter ‘c’ changes to the sound in English ‘th’. While in Colombia it is also pronounced like “s”.

Here are two examples:

La taza es azul (the cup is blue)

In Spain you would hear “la ta-tha es a-thul”;

while in Colombia you would hear “la ta-sa es a-sul”

INTERNATIONAL PHONETIC ALPHABET (IPA)

Spain la ta – θa es a – θul
Colombia la ta – sa es a – sul

‘Cinco cervezas’ (five beers)

In Spain, you would hear “thin-co ther-ve-thas”;

while in Colombia you would hear “sin-co ser-ve-sas”.

INTERNATIONAL PHONETIC ALPHABET (IPA)

Spain θiŋ – ko θeɾ – βe – θas
Colombia siŋ-ko seɾ – βe – sas
2. Tú vs. Usted (you – singular)

Both ‘usted’ and ‘’ are the Spanish equivalents of the pronoun “you” that can be used to replace the name of the person we are speaking to.

Normally, ‘usted’ is taught as the formal version and “” as the informal version.

Usted” is usually a more respectful way of talking to someone, such as a new acquaintance, an older person, or someone you consider to be of higher rank.

‘Tú’ is used when talking to friends, family, and others with a closer relationship.

However, the use in Colombia and Spain is different:

In Spain, “” is used most of the time. It is rarely the case when people use “usted”. For most people, “usted” is comparable with “sir” or “ma’am’’, which is considered to be old-fashioned.

Between friends or family members they never use “usted”. It is only used for example when they ask something in the street to an older woman or man or when working in customer service.

In Colombia “usted” is frequently used.

People do distinguish when talking to family members or close friends, and when talking to elders, people they just meet or people considered to be of higher rank.

In some regions of Colombia, it is common to hear people referring as “usted” even when they are close friends and family members.

Also, when two men are talking, they normally refer to each other as “usted” even if they are close friends. While when two women are talking, or when men are talking to women they usually use “tú”

3. Vosotros vs. ustedes (you – plural)

“Vosotros” (masculine) or “vosotras” (feminine) is the plural form of “you”.

Spain is the only Spanish speaking country where this pronoun is used. This is one of the key differences between the two languages.

In Spain, they use “vosotros/vosotras” in most of the cases when addressing a group of people.

Ustedes” is only used when they really want to show formality.

In Colombia, “vosotros/vosotras” simply doesn’t exist. Therefore, we use “ustedes” in both formal and informal situations.

Here some examples:

If you want to say “You all are my best friends”

  • In Spain they would say “Vosotros sois mis mejores amigos” or “vosotras sois mis mejores amigas”.
  • In Colombia we would say “Ustedes son mis mejores amigos” or “ustedes son mis mejores amigas”.

If you want to say “Do you want to go out?”

  • In Spain they would say “¿Tenéis ganas de salir?”
  • In Colombia we would say “¿Tienen ganas de salir?
4. Use of the past tense

This is probably one of the less noticeable differences between both languages.

In Spain, it is common to talk about a completed action using the present perfect tense. While in Colombia it is more common to use the simple past.

Here some examples:

What did you do today? Today I went to work

  • In Spain, they would say: Qué has hecho hoy? Hoy he ido al trabajo
  • In Colombia, we would say: Qué hiciste hoy? Hoy fui al trabajo

What did you do today? Today I stayed home

  • In Spain, they would say: Qué has hecho hoy? Hoy me he quedado en casa
  • In Colombia, we would say: Qué hiciste hoy? Hoy me quedé en casa
5. Vocabulary

This is probably the main and biggest difference between Colombian Spanish and Spain Spanish.

It’s actually the main difference between all the Spanish-speaking countries.

The difference in Spanish languages or dialects is similar to the differences between English speakers from the US, UK or Australia.

For example, Americans would say “fall” while the British would say “autumn”. They both understand what the other word means but they just don’t use it.

The same goes for Spanish speakers. We may use different vocabulary, have different accents or expressions, but we ultimately understand each other.

Here are a few examples of different words meaning the same in Colombia and Spain.

ColombiaSpainEnglish translation
Celular Móvil Mobile phone
Computador Ordenador Computer
CarroCoche Car
Jugo Zumo Juice
Papa Patata Potato
Apartamento Piso Apartment
GuayaboResacaHangover
Ella es muy chévereElla es muy maja She is cool
Esto es chévereEsto mola This is cool
Mesero/Mesera Camarero/camarera Waiter/waitress
Pasto CéspedGrass

Besides these 5 differences, the Spanish language is practically the same all over the world thanks to the RAE (The Royal Academy of the Spanish Language). This is the official institution in charge of promoting linguistic unity and to ensure the stability of the Spanish language within all territories where Spanish is spoken.

Therefore, someone who speaks good Spanish would have no issues communicating with other Spanish speakers. The main differences would be with regard to the country or region’s accent and vocabulary.

According to the 2019 report from the Instituto Cervantes, more than 580 million people around the world speak the Spanish language. This includes native speakers (483 million) and non-native speakers (97 million).

You might wonder where all these people come from, don’t you?

In this post, we’ll talk about which countries have Spanish as their official language, and which countries Spanish is widely spoken in, even if it’s not their official language.

You might be surprised; Spanish is spoken in countries you probably never thought of!

Let’s start!

In which countries Spanish is the official language?

Spanish is today is Spoken in 3 out of the 5 continents of the world. It’s the or an- official language of 20 Countries (excluding Puerto Rico):

The Americas (18 countries):

Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

Also, Spanish is also an official language of Puerto Rico (US) and Easter Islands (Chile)

Latin America is the region with the biggest population of native Spanish speakers. It has a lot to do with the region’s history. Read our post The Spanish language: history, evolution and influences

Mexico has the greatest number of native speakers in the region (more than 125 million). It is followed by Colombia (almost 50 million), and Argentina (more than 45 million).

Europe (1 country): Spain

Although Spain is where the Spanish language was originated, it is not one of the countries with the greatest number of native speakers (more than 46 million).

Spain accounts for less than 10 percent of the world’s Spanish speakers. It is even behind the United States, which today, has the third-largest Spanish speaking population (Yes! You will see in the next section).

Africa (1 country): Equatorial Guinea.

Did you know that there is still one country in Africa where Spanish is one of the official languages?

Yes, Equatorial Guinea. Nearly 68% of the country’s population speaks Spanish. It has been one of the official languages since 1844 when Spanish settlers established cacao farms.

See below the map of the countries where Spanish is spoken as an official language, and where Spanish has gained popularity as a second language:

Geographical distribution of the Spanish language

Geographical distribution of the Spanish language. Source

Did some of the countries on this map surprise you?

Let us surprise you even more!

Countries where Spanish is not an official language but is still widely spoken

The Americas

1. The United States

More than 13% of the US population (over 43 million people) speaks Spanish as a first language.

This makes it the second-largest Spanish speaking country in the world after Mexico. What is more interesting is that there is a bigger Spanish speaking population in the US than in Spain.

Additionally, the United States is home to nearly 12 million bilingual Spanish speakers.

Americans who don’t already speak Spanish are trying to learn it. Spanish is the most studied language in the U.S.

Here, you can see the map where Spanish is spoken in the United States and Puerto Rico. The darker the green, the higher percentages of Spanish speakers.

According to the US Census Office, it is estimated that 138 million people will speak Spanish by 2050.

This would make it the biggest Spanish-speaking nation on Earth, with 30% of the population speaking Spanish as their mother tongue.

2. Brazil

The official language in Brazil is Portuguese. Due to its proximity to Spanish speaking countries, and due to the fact that Portuguese is also a Romance language, Spanish is widely spoken in the country.

There are only 460,000 Spanish native speakers in Brazil. However, more than 6 million people speak Spanish as a second or third language.

In the parts of Brazil that border Spanish-speaking countries, you can encounter a pidgin language known as Portuñol, which is a mix between Spanish and Portuguese

3. Belize

Since it was a British colony, Belize is the only country in Central America where English is the official language. Nonetheless, Spanish is also spoken by more than 50% of the population.

4. Canada

Canada is one of the most diverse and multicultural countries in the world. Its official languages are English and French, and depending on the region one of them is spoken more than the other.

Since there are a large number of immigrants from all around the world, there is also a diversity of languages.

However, Spanish is also gaining popularity as in the rest of the world. According to national reports, Spanish is the most spoken foreign language, almost 1.8 million Canadians speak it.

5. ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao)

Dutch and Papiamento are the official languages in the Dutch Antilles. However, its proximity to Central and South America makes Spanish one of the most spoken languages in the islands.

In Aruba, 80% of the population speaks Spanish, while in Bonaire and Curaçao 59% does it.

Europe

In Europe, Spanish is the fifth most commonly used language after German, French, English, and Italian.

Besides Spain, these are the European countries with most native speakers: France (9,06%), Portugal (6,98%), Italy (6,56%), Sweden (4,78%), Ireland (3.65%), Denmark (3.29%), and the Netherlands (3.24%)

Percentage of people who self reportedly know enough Spanish to hold a conversation, in the EU, 2005

Percentage of people who self reportedly know enough Spanish to hold a conversation, in the EU, 2005. Source

Other countries important to highlight are:

1. Switzerland

What it’s most interesting about this country is not only that they have four official languages (i.e. German, French, Italian, and Romansh), but also that Spanish is one of the most popular as a second language. About 150,000 people or 2.3 percent of the population speak the language.

2. Andorra

Andorra is the only country in the world with Catalan as an official language. 70% of the population also speaks Spanish due to the immigration of Spanish immigrants between 1955 and 1985.

3. Gibraltar

It is a British overseas territory. English is the official language, it is used by the Government and in schools. However, Most locals speak Spanish because of its proximity to Spain.

Africa

1. Morocco

Did you know what Morocco was also a Spanish colony?

That’s why now in Morocco still mainly people speak Spanish as a second language. It is spoken mainly in the northern region, also because of its proximity to Spain.

2. The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic

Western Sahara, formerly Spanish Sahara, Spanish was the official language during the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, Sahrawi nomads (about 500,000 people) still speak the language.

3. Algeria

In 1492 Spain was declared a Catholic nation which resulted in expelling the Spanish speaking Muslims out of the country. Most of them flew to Algeria.

Also, at the end of the Spanish civil war many Republicans had to take up exile and went to Algeria too. That is why still today we can find 200.000 Spanish speakers in the city of Oran.

Asia

1. The Philippines

Only one country in Asia stands out for the use of Spanish language, this is the Philippines.

Yes, these islands were also a Spanish colony. They ruled the country from 1565-1898, and Spanish was the official language back then.

Then, at the end of the 19th century, the United States invaded the country. During that time English language was imposed and Spanish forbade.

After the Spanish-American War, Spanish remained as a co-official language until 1987. Since then, it has been designated as an optional language. This is why much of the Spanish language disappeared.

Today, there are some 120 to 187 languages spoken in the Philippines. However, most people speaks English and Tagalog (a mixture of English, Spanish and native languages).

There are also other languages like Bisaya that has many Spanish words. For instance, they use the same words for the days of the week, the months of the year, the numbers and the cookware.

And, there is also a language called Chavacano (i.e. Spanish-based Creole), that is very close to Spanish.

Oceania

1. Australia

Although Spanish is not one of the most spoken languages in Australia, it is interesting to see how the language has also gained popularity during the last years due to the immigration of Spanish and Latin Americans. Spanish is one of the 10 foreign languages spoken in the country

2. Guam Island

This is an island in Micronesia in the Pacific Ocean and is part of the United States. It also stands out for speaking the Spanish language since 36% of the population speaks it.

Did any of the countries on this list surprise you?

Spanish as a second language is growing fast. It is a language of cultural integration, if you learn Spanish you will definitely have a major advantage when visiting all these countries and meet its people.

Plus, it’s one of the easiest languages for English speakers to pick up.

Learn Spanish in Colombia: In-Class & Online Courses

 

 

Where did the Spanish language come from, and how has it changed over time?

In this post, we’ll talk about linguistics, history, and in particular, the evolution of the Spanish language.

We’ll be exploring its roots and learning about the many words we use today that were adopted from other languages or dialects.

Let’s start from the beginning…

How many languages are there in the world?

According to Ethnologue, there are 142 different language families and a total of 7,111 languages are spoken today.

Around 40% of these languages are endangered and only 23 languages account for more than half the world’s population, being the Spanish language one of the most spoken languages in the world.

Learn Spanish: Languages with the most native speakers

Languages with the most native speakers. Source

The Spanish language we know today, has gone through a very interesting and long journey; it’s the result of thousands of years of language development and cultural influence.

Spanish belongs to the Indo-European family and derives many of its rules of grammar and syntax from Latin; around 75% of Spanish words have Latin roots.

However, Spanish has also other influences such as Celtiberian, Basque, Gothic, Arabic, and some of the native languages of the Americas.

How has Spanish changed over the years?

In his TEDed video, Alex Gendler talks about how languages change and evolve, and how groups or linguistic trees give us crucial insights into the past.

Gendler finishes with an interesting request:

…the next time you hear a foreign language, pay attention. It may not be as foreign as you think.

Did you know that there are about 4,000 words in Spanish that come from Arabic?

Spanish, and its distinct dialects, emerged following years of invasion and settlement of many cultures in the Iberian Peninsula: the Moors from Northern Africa, the Visigoths from Central Europe and the Christians from the Roman Empire.

Castillan Spanish was originated as a continuation of the spoken Latin (Vulgar Latin) in the northern and central areas of Spain. Then, the northern dialect spread to the south where it absorbed local Romance dialects such as Judaeo-Spanish or Ladino and borrowed many words from the Andalusian Arabic.

Colonization and the Spanish language

Another important moment in history influenced the development of the Spanish language.

The colonization of the Americas in the 15th Century.

It all started when the Spanish “conquistadores” led by Christopher Columbus (Cristobal Colon in Spanish) arrived in the Caribbean in 1492.

The process of bringing the Spanish language and Spanish traditions, including the catholic religion, into the continent was referred to as “hispanización”.

There were many challenges in the “hispanización” process, but one of the biggest was communication.

Local languages were starkly different, the Catholic Church stepped in establishing learning institutions to teach Catholicism in Spanish.

The Spaniards occupied the territory for over three centuries, children and adolescents grew up, and the Spanish language started to spread and expand in the region.

Despite the efforts of the Spaniards to impose the language, many of the native local words were adopted.

The Castillan Spanish words were simply not accurate to the description of the many new discoveries of the region.

The adoption of the native vocabulary included local objects such as:

  • “canoas” (canoe) or
  • “hamacas” (Hammocks). Likewise, fauna and flora that didn’t exist in Europe at that time such as
  • ají (chilli pepper),
  • tiburón (shark),
  • iguana (iguana),
  • manatí (manatee),
  • guacamayo (macaw),
  • maní (peanut),
  • camote (sweet potato),
  • cacao (cocoa),
  • tomate (tomato),
  • tamal (tamale) and
  • papaya (papaya).

Over the years, the Americas Spanish evolved and Latin American Spanish and its many dialects emerged.

What About Spanish Today?

Spanish is today the official language of 20 countries.

It’s spoken by more than 500 million people around the world, and it’s the most widely spoken Romance language, both in number of speakers and number of countries.

Today, depending on where you go, you could hear differences in words, accents and even grammar.

Mexico is by far the country with the most native Spanish speakers worldwide, followed by Colombia, Argentina and Spain.

 

Top 12 countries with the largest number of native Spanish speakers worldwide

Countries with the largest number of native Spanish speakers worldwide Source

Spanish is the third most used language on the Internet and it’s second on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

Furthermore, it plays an important role in the modern cultural and artistic industry; there are countless films, series, books, songs, and conferences in Spanish. And, it is expected that by 2060 around 754 million people will speak the language globally.

Is Colombian Spanish different?

In general, Colombian Spanish is a group of dialects of Spanish spoken in Colombia.

Since the dialects spoken in the various regions of Colombia are quite diverse, the term Colombian Spanish is of more geographical than linguistic relevance.

It is important to note that when referring to “Colombian Spanish” people normally refer to the standard dialect spoken in Bogotá. This dialect is generally well known for being probably the clearest Spanish to understand and the easiest Spanish to learn.

Colombian Spanish has gained popularity between the non-native speakers willing to learn or improve this language.

What do you think? Did you find the history of the Spanish language as rich and fascinating as we do? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram