World-wide 420 million people speak Spanish, also called Castellano, and it is the 4th most spoken language in the world. The language has a rich heritage and over many centuries of evolution people had been developing many variations of the language that still exist today.
Castellano is the official national language of Spain. Nevertheless, there are other co-official or unofficial languages spoken according to the cultural diversity of the Spanish regions that form an important part of the Spanish cultural patrimony. Nowadays 16 different languages (official and unofficial) are spoken on the Iberian Peninsula and the 11 islands that are an important part of the country.
Here are the languages listed and ranked by the number of speakers in descending order:
1. Castilian: As mentioned above it is the official language of Spain and over 45 million people in Spain speak it. It is also the dominant language in every part of Spain, even when they are multilingual.
2. Catalan: Catalan is a Romance language named for its origins in Catalonia, in what is northeastern Spain and adjoining parts of France. It is spoken by 4.6 million people and it is the national and only official language of Andorra, and a co-official language of the Spanish autonomous communities of Catalonia, where Barcelona forms part of, the Balearic Islands and the Valencian community (see point 4).
3. Galician. Its an official language of the region Galicia in the north-west corner of Spain next to Portugal. Gallego, as the language is called in Spanish, is spoken by 2.6 million people in Galicia. The language is close to the Portuguese language, because Galicia and Portugal were united during the medieval times.
4. Valencian. It is an official language in the region around the city Valencia and is spoken by 2 million people. It is the language spoken in the Valencian Community in Spain and the name used to refer to the Catalan in that area. In the Valencian Community, Valencian is the traditional language and is co-official with Spanish.
5. Basque. The language is called euskera in Bask language and Vasco in Spanish, and it is an official language of the Basque country, where San Sebastián is, and the region of Navarra. The language is spoken by 900.000 people and is one of the oldest in Europe, even older than Latin. In compare to all other languages in Europe that belong to a family of languages (Indo-Germanic, Uralic, Turkic or Semitic language), Vasco has no generic relation to any other language. That is why Vasco called an isolated language.
6. Balearic. It is the collective name for the dialects of Catalan spoken in the Balearic Islands and it is spoken by 600.000 people on Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera. Distinctive features of Catalan in the Balearic Islands differ according to the specific variant being spoken on the different islands.
7. Extremaduran. The language is spoken by approximately 200.000 people in an area covering the north-western part of the autonomous community of Extremadura and adjoining areas in the province of Salamanca.
8. Cantabrian. Cantabrian is a group of dialects belonging to Astur-Leonese. It is indigenous to the territories in and surrounding the Autonomous Community of Cantabria, in Northern Spain. The language is spoken by 120.000 people in Cantabria in the region around Santander and according to the low number of speakers the existence of the language is in danger.
9. Asturian. Asturian is a Romance language of the West Iberian group, Astur-Leonese subgroup. The language is estimated at about 100.000 first-language speakers and 450.000 second-language speakers in Asturias in the north of Spain between Galicia and the Basque region.
10. Aragonese. The language, in Spanish also known as chapurriau, is spoken by 30.000 people in the valleys of the Pyrenees in Aragon, mainly in the comarcas of Somontano de Barbastro, Jacetania, Alto Gállego, Sobrarbe, and Ribagorza. It is the only modern language that developed from medieval Navarro-Aragonese.
11. Leonese. The term Leonese refers to certain vernacular Romance dialects which are spoken by 25.000 – 50.000 people in northern and western portions of the historical region of León in Spain (modern provinces of León, Zamora, and Salamanca), and in a few adjoining areas in Portugal.
12. Altoaragonese. The language is spoken by 12.000 people in the province Huesca close to Zaragoza in the north of Aragón and according to the low number of speakers the existence of the language is in danger. A Spanish law accepts, promotes and protects the language, although it is not communicated as an official language by the country.
13. Fala Galaico-Extremeña. The language is only spoken by 6.000 people, who live between Extramadura and the border of Portugal, precisely in the valley of Jálama in the towns San Martín, Eljas and Valverde.
14. Aranese. Aranese is a standardized form of the Pyrenean Gascon variety of the Occitan language spoken in the Val d’Aran, in northwestern Catalonia close to the Spanish border with France, where it is one of the three official languages beside Catalan and Spanish. The dialect of the Occitan language is spoken in the region around the valley of Arán, where it is the official language for 5.000 people.
15. Murcian. It is considered a southern dialect of the Spanish language, with influences from the Todmir dialect and from the Aragonese and Catalan languages. The language is spoken in Murcia and the adjacent regions of Andalucia, Castilla-La Mancha and Valencia but there are no official statistics about the amount of people, who speak it.
16. Silbo gomero. Silbo gomero signifies a whistle codex that was used by the aborigines (Gauchas) of the Canaries Islands to communicate across the deep ravines and narrow valleys that radiate through the island. It enables messages to be exchanged over a distance of up to 5 kilometers due to its loud nature. Silbo gomero is transposition of Spanish from speech to whistling and it is still taught as an elective course at school on the island La Gomera. In 2009 it was declared as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
Note: It is important to understand that some of these languages have the same roots of language. So they are similar but not even and people can understand each other, because these languages evolved from the same family of language. Nevertheless, there are languages that distinguish themselves completely, for example the Basque or Silbo gomero.
Be aware of these different types of languages when you travel through Spain, although Castellano is the official language and it is spoken by almost everyone in Spain. At our Spanish schools in Spain, or online Spanish classes we only teach Castellano.