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The Spanish Language

Around 360 million people worldwide speak Spanish as their first language. Spanish is the official language of 21 countries. It is the official language of Spain in Europe. It is also spoken in Equatorial Guinea, Africa. Many South and Central Americans speak Spanish as their second language.

The following numbers are estimated and listed based on the number of speakers in each country:

  • Mexico: 110 million
  • Colombia: 41 million
  • Argentina: around 40 million
  • Spain: more than 38 million
  • Venezuela: 27 million
  • Peru: around 26 million
  • Chile: more than 16 million
  • Ecuador: more than 14 million
  • Cuba: around 11 million
  • Guatemala: nearly 10 million
  • Bolivia: more than 8 million
  • Dominican RepubliC: more than 8 million
  • El Salvador, approximately 6 million
  • Honduras: approximately 6 million
  • Nicaragua: nearly 6 million
  • Paraguay: more than 4,000,000
  • Costa Rica: approximately 4 million
  • Puerto Rico: more than 3 million
  • Uruguay: more than 3 million
  • Panama: 3 million
  • Equatorial Guinea, approximately 627 thousand (mostly as second language). 


How Many Words Are In the Spanish Language?

You can estimate the vocabulary size of Spanish by using the current editions, the "Diccionario of la Real Academia Espanola" (for European Spanish) and the Academy's Americanismos (for Latin American Spanish). The Diccionario de la Real Academia Espanola has approximately 88,000 words.

The Americanismos Latin America list contains around 70,000 words. These books contain only words currently used. To sum it all up, there are roughly 150,000 official Spanish terms.

These two dictionaries are the closest thing to a complete, modern official Spanish vocabulary list.


How Many Spanish Words Do You Need To Know To Be Fluent? 

According to research, language learners need to know around 2,000 words to understand at least 80% of foreign language texts. Written language can be more complicated than spoken and has more vocabulary. However, you can deduce meaning from context, and this allows you to see conjugations more easily.

Spoken Spanish uses less words than written Spanish. This means you can learn 2,000 of the most common Spanish words and have a decent conversation, while understanding about 90% of all terms.

250 words: the foundation of any language. Without these words, you cannot construct any meaningful sentence.

750 words: the most important words used every day by every person who speaks the language.

2,500 words: should enable you to express everything you could want to say, although you might need some creativity.

5,000 words: the active vocabulary of native speakers without higher education.

10,000 words: the active vocabulary of native speakers with higher education.

20,000 words: the amount you'd need to recognize passively to read, understand, and enjoy a work of literature.


The History Of The Spanish Language

Spanish is also known by the name Castilian, after the dialect that gave rise to modern Spanish. This dialect was first heard in Cantabria around Burgos, north-central Spain (Old Castile). It spread southwards to central Spain (New Castile), around Madrid and Toledo by the 11th century.

In the 15th century, the kingdoms of Castile, Leon and Aragon merged. Castilian was made the official language of Spain. The remaining regional dialects of Santander, Navarra, Asturias and Leon have been lost and can only be found in rural areas. Galician, which has many similarities to Portuguese, was spoken in northern Spain. Catalan was spoken in eastern and northeastern Spain. In the second half of the 20th Century, the number of Galician and Catalan speakers increased a little.



Mozarabic was the Spanish dialect that was used in Arab-occupied Spain before the 12th Century. It is an archaic form that borrows heavily from Arabic. It is most well-known for its Mozarabic refrains, also known as kharjahs. These are often added to Hebrew or Arabic poetry.


Differences in Pronunciation in the Main Spanish Dialects

Spanish is spoken almost everywhere in South and Central America, except Brazil. In Brazil, people speak Portuguese. Latin American Spanish is home to a variety of dialects. All are derived from Castilian, but they differ in many phonology points from European Spanish. Latin American Spanish has a distinctive feature: Castilian uses the /s/ sound in words that are spelled with a Z or c before e. Castilian uses the lisp-like sound /th/ (for words with a Z or c before the e or I). 

Also, Castilian replaces the Castilian's /ly/ sound with a sound called /y/ or with the /zh/ sound in English azure of the sound of the French jour or the j in French jour.

Grammar of the Spanish language

Spanish lost all Latin case systems, except for pronouns with subject or object forms. Nouns can be marked according to gender. Plurals can also be marked by adding an -s or -es. To match nouns, adjectives can change their endings. Multiple moods are used in the verb system, which is complex but still consistent:

  • indicative
  • imperative
  • subjunctive


And the conditional moods:

  • preterite
  • imperfect
  • present
  • future 
  • conditional tenses
  • passive and reflexive constructions; 
  • preterite and perfect tenses.

    Castilian is the most common language spoken by Spanish speakers. Castellano is still the name of the language in many American countries. Asturian and Basque Calo are spoken in Spain. Catalan Valencian Balear, Fala and Extremaduran are also spoken in Spain. Castilian is the most spoken Spanish dialect because of the Reconquista. Christian states conquered Moorish Spain during the Reconquista. This was completed by 1492. The Castilian dialect, which had established itself in Spain during The Age of Discovery, was then exported to the New World. From the mid-15th to the middle of the 16th centuries, the age of discovery was in full swing.

    Standard Castilian was displaced from Old Castile. This language was considered archaic and rustic by the 15th Century. In the 16th and 17th century, a modified version of Standard Castilian developed in Toledo, as well as in Madrid. Spanish-speaking countries in the Americas have developed their own standard Spanish dialects.

    Latin American Spanish and European Spanish differ in pronunciation. Latin America does not have the lisp. Certain vocabulary items vary too. South America is more likely to use loanwords from English. These differences are minor. Many Latin Americans still regard true Castilian as their role model. Despite American Spanish being more musical and sophisticated than Castilian, it's still remarkable how little creolization has occurred.

    Judaeo-Spanish retains an archaic Castilian form that reflects the state before standardization in the 16th century. The poorer classes were most affected by the 1492 expulsion of Jews from Iberian Peninsula. Wealthy Jews preferred "conversion". Many chose to live in voluntary exile and settled down in England or the Netherlands later. Some communities still speak their Sephardic language as a religious language.

    The Middle East had been home to Spanish-speaking refugees, who produced learned works using archaic Castilian before that. They used an adaptable Hebrew script. Judaeo-Spanish (Ladino) is spoken by 100,000-200,000 people, mainly in Israel.


    History of the Written Spanish Language

    The first Spanish texts consist of fragmented words, which gloss two Latin texts dating back to the 10th Century. One's from Rioja and the other is from Castile. The language used in both documents is very similar. Leonese is another document dating back to 980. Next, we have the Mozarabic Kharjahs. These are the oldest texts still alive.

    "Cantar de mio Cid", ("Song of My Cid") appeared in a Castilian language by the middle of the 12th Century. Leonese literary works were not published until the 14th century. They were also available in Aragonese until the 15th century. However, Castilian would be the most important language, having an impact even on Portuguese during the 15 and 16 centuries.




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