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The five languages of Spain

Did you know that Spain has five official languages? When talking about Spain, we usually talk about the Castilian language, also just know as Spanish or Español. Figures from INE (National Institute of Statistics) shows that 98,9% of the population in Spain speaks Castilian, but in six of the sixteen autonomous communities in Spain we can find co-official languages in addition to the Castilian.


17,5% of the Spanish speak Catalonian, but within the region of Catalonia this rises to 85% of its population. Catalonia claimed official status for their language in 1979, just one year after the Spanish Constitution was written.

Catalan spoken in the Balearic island are usually referred to as “mallorquín” and is widely spoken on the islands. Spanish is the native language of 47.7% of the population (most of them born elsewhere in Spain), Catalan of 42.6%, and 1.8% claim both languages as native.

Valencian is a different variant spoken mostly in the community of Valencia and Alicante-Elche. There have been some voiced opinions that Valencian should be considered as a separate language. Valencian is today the official name in the region to refer to Catalan within its community.

Galician (Galego)

Galician is the co-official language in the community of Galicia. This was written in the Constitution in 1978. The language is mostly spoken in the north-west corner of the community and is closely related to Portuguese. In Galicia, Galician is the native language of 40.9% of the population, 30.9% claim Spanish as their native language, and 25.3% have both languages as native; 50.8% of the population habitually use more Galician than Spanish, while 47.8% habitually use Spanish.


Basque is the co-official language in the Basque country. This was ratified in a referendum in 1979. Basque is spoken by approximately one million Spanish citizens (around 2.15% of the population). During the Franco-era in Spain, Basque came close to extinction, but during the 1970, a standard version of Basque was created by the Euskaltzaindia (Royal Academy of the Basque Language), mainly based on the central Basque dialect and on the written tradition. The Standard Basque has been criticized as to be an artificial language, and some more traditional dialects might have difficulties understanding it. The Standard Basque is growing as younger people now are trying to learn it, thereby reviving its use.


Aranese, a variety of Occitan/Gascon spoken in the Aran Valley, in the northwest of the province of Lleida, is official in this valley and since 2006 in all of Catalonia under the new Statute of Autonomy. In the Aran Valley, Spanish is the mother tongue of 38.8% of the population (many of them born elsewhere), Aranese is the mother tongue of 34.2% and Catalan of 19.4%, according to 2001 census data. Aranese is the mother tongue of about 2,800 people, which is 0.007% of the population of Spain.

Spain’s languages in the EU

In 2004, Spain’s co-official languages were institutionalized, meaning that citizens can use these languages when communicating with the EU, both written and spoken, and that there are certain criteria in place in terms of translation and interpreting.

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