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Spanish Matters - a blog in English and Spanish for those learning the language

This blog is entitled "Spanish Matters", because it does! Matter, that is. If you have committed to living in Spain, you should also make a commitment to learn some Spanish. So this is a blog about matters Spanish, as well as promoting the notion that Spanish does indeed matter. The blog contains articles in both English and Spanish. Don Pablo hopes it will be helpful to those learning the language.

The Languages of Spain
Friday, December 16, 2022 @ 11:41 AM

By Don Pablo

You may think that the language of Spain is Spanish. Well, it is of course. Officially known as castellano, Castilian Spanish, it is the equivalent of Oxford or BBC English in the UK or Hochdeutsch in Germany, ie the official, pure form of the language. In some countries this is “protected” by a body, eg the Real Academia Española in Spain, the Académie Française in France and Duden in Germany.


But, whilst castellano is the official language of Spain, there are other official languages too. Four in fact, although another two claim similar status. The four other official languages are regional languages, viz catalán, euskera (Basque), gallego and valenciano.

Their use banned during the 40-year dictatorship of General Franco, since his death in 1975 and the subsequent and rapid democratisation of the country under Franco’s protégé, the now disgraced Juan Carlos I, the prohibited regional languages have been allowed to flourish. Euskera and catalán are the languages of officialdom and of instruction in schools in their regions. Basques and Catalans speak it as their mother tongue, only switching to castellano with reluctance. Catalunya wants to secede from Spain; the Basque country wants more independence. Valencia and Galicia are less “independista”.


Facts and figures

99 per cent of Spaniards speak castellano as their first or second language. Of the rest, eight percent of the population claim their first language to be catalán, four per cent valenciano, three per cent gallego and one per cent euskera.

There are also dialects like andaluz, aragonés and zaragozano.

What is the difference between a language and a dialect? It’s difficult to define, but usually a language boasts its own body of literature. One commentator suggested a language is the speech of a country with an army, which isn’t strictly accurate, but you get the idea.

Scouse, Geordie and West Country are dialects or accents in the UK; Welsh, Scots Gaelic and Irish Gaelic are languages.


Which to learn?

If you’re a foreigner who lives in Spain or visits regularly, I would always recommend learning castellano, except maybe in Catalunya. However, catalán is not spoken widely throughout the world, whereas Spanish is a truly global language, nearly as important as English in world terms. With English and Spanish you can communicate pretty much everywhere on the planet.

Obviously, depending on where you live, you will inevitably pick up dialect words and phrases and to some extent pronunciation and intonation. But, that’s OK.

The important thing to realise is that you are extremely unlikely to pick up Spanish by osmosis. Of the very good foreign Spanish speakers I know around here, most have a degree in Spanish, were born here, have a Spanish parent, married a Spaniard, have a Spanish lover, or have lived here for a very long time. The rest need to work at it. And although it may sometimes seem like a struggle, it’ll be worth it in the end.See my top ten tips for learning Spanish here.

Castellano or andaluz?

Andaluz has to be the worst dialect in Spain.

Even though I have an honours degree in Spanish (castellano), and have lived in the country for the best part of a decade and a half, I still struggle with the Andalusian dialect.

Mind you, I have a similar problem when I visit Baden-Württemberg in Germany with my German wife. Schwäbisch is arguably the most impenetrable of the German regional dialects.

I have an honours degree in German also, but in the country villages of this southern German Land (state), that’s not a help.

What to do? In Spain, I put myself about in local bars, I watch CanalSur or AndaluciaTV and listen to Radio Andalucía in the car. It helps ….. I’m getting there!


© Don Pablo


Tags: Académie Française, Andalucía, AndaluciaTV, Andalusia, andaluz, aragonés, Baden- Württemberg, Basque, BBC English, CanalSur, castellano, Catalan, catalán, degree, Don Pablo, Duden, euskera, France, Gaelic, gallego, General Franco, Geordie, German, German,  Hochdeutsch, Irish Gaelic, Juan Carlos I, Oxford English, Radio Andalucía, Real Academia Española Schwäbisch, Scots Gaelic, Scouse, Spain, Spanish, valenciano, Welsh, West Country, zaragozano

Like 3


Sdeleng said:
Sunday, December 18, 2022 @ 8:48 PM

Totally fantastic. I am in el Maestrat, Castellon and want a spanish passport as I nearly have lived here enough and gave permanent residency . My Spanish is a mixture of castellano and valenciano. Where do I go to learn enough to get my passport?? Googling has only produced rogues.

PablodeRonda said:
Sunday, January 15, 2023 @ 7:52 AM

As far as I'm aware, the 17 autonomous communities offer free Spanish language tuition to foreigners. In Andalucía that is certainly the case.
In Ronda (Malaga), for example, there are classes two or three times a week at two levels: beginners and intermediate.
Other than that you would need to pay for classes. I would recommend in person rather than on the internet.

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