A Guide to Spanish - 10 facts about the Spanish language

Useful facts about the Spanish language

Translation in Spanish

Check the Spanish-only version

1. Where is Spanish spoken?

Also known as Castilian, due to its origins in the Castile region of Spain, Spanish is the official language of Spain. It's also spoken across Central and South American countries which were former Spanish colonies, and more recently in the USA due to migration from its southern neighbours

In Africa, Spanish is spoken in Equatorial Guinea and the disputed territory of Western Sahara. In Asia, there are still remnants of the language in the Philippines

2. What you already know about Spanish

Because English and Spanish share many words of Latin origin, you will already be able to recognise more than 3,000 Spanish words!

For example, most English words ending in -tion end in -ción, e.g.
 atención, publicación, liberación

There are also loan words in English of Spanish origin, including tornado, bonanza or patio. In addition, you’ll find many familiar American place names, dating back to the times of the Conquistadors: Los Ángeles, city of angels, Las Vegas, the dales, Nevada, snowy land, Florida, flowery and, yes, Amarillo, the Spanish for yellow

3. How hard is it to learn?

Spanish is generally thought of as one of the easier languages to learn. It’s a phonetic language, meaning the way it’s written is the way it's pronounced

The biggest differences in grammar include the use of gender, agreements and a more extensive verb conjugation with six different endings for each tense

The variations between the Spanish spoken in Spain and Latin American Spanish mainly lie in pronunciation and intonation but they won’t hamper communication!

4. The most difficult words and tongue twisters

It’s probably the rolled r sound such as in  ferrocarril, railway, carretera, road or dr as in  cocodrilo, crocodile that make the language seem tricky at first, but it can be great fun trying to pronounce them!

A word which contains all the five Spanish vowels is  murciélago, meaning bat (the one that flies, not of the ball-hitting variety!)

Try these two tongue twisters:
 Como poco coco como, poco coco compro.
Since I don't eat much coconut, I don't buy many coconuts

 El perro de San Roque no tiene rabo, porque Ramón Ramírez se lo ha robado
Saint Roch's dog has no tail, because Ramón Ramírez has stolen it

5. Know any good Spanish jokes?

There are plenty of jokes or chistes in Spanish covering politics, doctors, the police forces, the military or other nationalities. And when telling jokes, political correctness is generally less observed than in English.

So here are two ‘safe’ examples:
 - Doctor, doctor, no puedo recordar nada
- Vaya, y desde cuándo tiene usted este problema?
- ¿Qué problema?
- Doctor, doctor, I can't remember anything
- Oh well, and how long have you had this problem?
- What problem?

 - Doctor, ¿usted cree que podré vivir 40 años más?
- Depende. ¿Usted parrandea con sus amigos?
- No, doctor
- ¿Bebe?
- No, doctor
- ¿Fuma?
- No, doctor
- ¿Tiene pareja?
- No, doctor
- ¿Y para qué diablos quiere usted vivir 40 años más?
- Doctor, do you think I could live 40 years longer?
- Depends. Do you party hard with your friends?
- No, doctor
- Do you drink?
- No, doctor
- Do you smoke?
- No, doctor
- Do you have a partner?
- No, doctor
- So why on earth do you want to live 40 years longer?

6. If I learn Spanish, will it help me with any other languages?

Spanish is a Romance language, ie of Latin origin. Romance languages share a similar grammatical structure and there are often similarities in vocabulary

If you learn Spanish, you'll have a head start in learning other languages such as French, Portuguese, Italian, Catalan or Romanian

7. What not to say and do

False friends, falsos amigos, are words which look or sound similar in two different languages but actually mean something else

For example, if you’re embarrassed, you may feel tempted to say
 estoy embarazado (for a man) or  embarazada (for a woman). That actually means I’m pregnant, which in the case of a man especially would make you an instant scientific wonder! The right phrase to say is  me da vergüenza

8. Famous quotations to impress the locals

 La diligencia es madre de la buenaventura
Diligence is the mother of good fortune
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616)
Cervantes is world renowned as the writer of Don Quijote (1605), often considered the first modern novel and a Western literature classic

9. First written records and ruling body

Dating back to 964, las Glosas Emilianenses, Glosses of Saint Emilianus, is the first-known document, consisting of notes in both Spanish and Basque in the margins of a religious manuscript in Latin

Founded in 1713 by royal charter, la Real Academia Española, the Royal Spanish Academy, started life as the regulator of the language. Nowadays, keeping up with the times, its rules are drawn from examples of current use across the Spanish-speaking world

10. How to be polite

Like other Romance languages, there are different ways of saying ‘you’:
 , for people you can be on first-name terms with, and
 usted, in other cases.
The plural is, respectively,  vosotros and  ustedes

When greeting, men usually shake hands. In informal situations, women meeting men or other women will give a kiss on each cheek

Some English subtleties are not as widely used in Spanish and may make the language sound brash at first.
For example, in a bar you might be asked:  ¿Qué quiere? Although it literally means What do you want? it lacks the brashness of its direct English translation and to Spanish ears it sounds as polite as What would you like?

You may also notice that  por favor isn’t as widely used as please in English. Again, it’s down to subtlety and an economy of words.
For example, instead of adding extra words, you can just turn a request into a question and ask nicely:
 ¿Abres la ventana? (Can) you (please) open the window?
 ¿Abro la ventana? (Would you like me to) open the window?

Spanish key phrases

Spanish key phrases

Get started with 20 audio phrases

The Spanish alphabet

The Spanish alphabet

Get the lowdown on accents and the letter ñ

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