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Spanish (español/castellano)

Spanish is a Romance language with approximately 470 million speakers, 410 of whom speak it as a first language while the remainder speak it as a second language. A significant number of people also speak Spanish as a foreign language. Spanish is spoken in Spain and 22 other countries including: Andorra, Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Cayman Islands, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, the USA and Venezuela

Spanish at a glance

  • Native names: español, castellano
  • Linguistic affliation: Indo-Europea, Italic, Romance, Western Romance, Ibero-Romance, West-Iberian, Castilian
  • Number of speakers: c. 470 million
  • Spoken in: Spain, Latin America, USA, Equatorial Guinea
  • First written: 11th century
  • Writing system: Latin script
  • Status: official language in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Spain, Uruguay, Venezuela

Spanish first started to appear in writing in the form of notes and glosses in Latin religious texts, the Glosas Emilianenses, dating from the 11th century. During the 12th century, law codes (Fueros) were being translated into Spanish. Spanish prose flowered during the reign of King Alfonso X the Wise of Castile (1252-84), who in addition to being the king and a poet, also found time to write an encyclopaedia in Spanish called Las Partidas, which contains laws, chronicles, recipes, and rules for hunting, chess and card games. The first Spanish grammar, by Antonio de Nebrija, and the first dictionaries were published during the 15th and 16th centuries.

In Spain this language is generally called español (Spanish) when contrasting it with languages of other countries, such as French and English, but it is called castellano (Castilian, the language of the Castile region) when contrasting it with other languages spoken in Spain, such as Galician, Basque, and Catalan.

Some philologists use Castilian only when speaking of the language spoken in Castile during the Middle Ages, stating that it is preferable to use Spanish for its modern form. The subdialect of Spanish spoken in northern parts of modern day Castile is also called Castilian sometimes, and differs from those of other regions of Spain, however the Castilian dialect is conventionally considered in Spain to be the same as standard Spanish.

The name castellano is widely used for the language in Latin America. Some Spanish speakers consider castellano a generic term with no political or ideological links, much as "Spanish" in English.

Spanish alphabet (alfabeto español)

A a B b C c Ch ch D d E e F f G g H h I i
a be ce che de e efe ge hache i
J j K k L l Ll ll M m N n Ñ ñ O o P p Q q
jota ka ele elle eme ene eñe o pe cu
R r S s T t U u V v W w X x Y y Z z  
uve doble
doble u
doble ve
i griega

Ch (che) and Ll (elle) are also considered letters of the Spanish alphabet, however in 1994 the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE) decreed that these letters would no longer be treated as separate letters in dictionaries.

Recordings of the Spanish alphabet

Daniel Callejas Sevilla from Spain

René Alejandro Zaldívar Gallegos from Mexico

Pronunciation of European Spanish

Pronunciation of European Spanish


Thanks to Francisco Peña Blas for corrections to this pronunciation guide, with additional information from Angel Castaño

Pronunciation of Spanish in Latin America

Pronunciation of Spanish in Latin American


Information on the pronunciation of Spanish in Latin America provided by Alejandro P. Estrada, with corrections and additional information from Angel Castaño and Samir Castro Zapata

Sample text in Spanish

Todos los seres humanos nacen libres e iguales en dignidad y derechos y, dotados como están de razón y conciencia, deben comportarse fraternalmente los unos con los otros.

Recordings of this text

Margarita Gracia Sanz from Valencia

Alejandro García-Aragón from Cádiz, Andalucía

René Alejandro Zaldívar Gallegos from Mexico

Hear a recording of this text by Franco Roca from Peru


All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

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Romance languages

Aragonese, Aranese, Aromanian, Asturian, Catalan, Corsican, Extremaduran, Franco-Provençal, French, Friulian, Galician, Gallo, Genoese, Guernésiais, Italian, Jèrriais, Ladino, Ladin, Latin, Lombard, Megleno-Romanian, Mirandese, Moldovan, Occitan, Piedmontese, Portuguese, Romanian, Romansh, Sardinian, Sicilian, Spanish, Venetian, Walloon

Other languages written with the Latin alphabet