10 Facts About the Spanish Language

During the 16th century, Spain became the world’s first global superpower, with an empire stretching east across most of Europe to the Philippines and India and west across the Atlantic to the Americas. Spain’s dominance over the world contributed to Spanish being one of the most spoken languages nowadays.

Today, Spanish is the official languages of 20 countries in Europe and Latin America and is regularly spoken by significant minority populations in other countries such as the United States.

In this article, we share 10 interesting facts on the Spanish language.


The Origins

Spanish is an Indo-European language that originates from Vulgar Latin, the popular and colloquial sociolect of Latin spoken by soldiers, settlers, and merchants of the Roman Empire. The language developed in the north-center of the Iberian Peninsula and belongs to the family of Romance languages alongside Portuguese, French, Italian and Romanian. Together romance languages cover a vast territory in Europe and beyond, and work as official and national languages in dozens of countries.


Second most spoken language in the world

With almost 500 million, speakers Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world, only second to Mandarin Chinese (1.2 billion) and followed by English (around 400 million). Today Spanish is an official language of the United Nations, European Union, Mercosur, and the World Trade Organization.


Dialects and Varieties

Just as the English of the United States of America or Australia isn’t the same English of the United Kingdom, so too is the Spanish of Spain different than the Spanish of Argentina. Many of the regional varieties of Spanish are quite divergent from one another, especially in pronunciation and vocabulary, and less so in grammar. As a rule of thumb, all dialects follow the same written standard, but the spoken forms vary to different degrees. The variations are not just between European Spanish and the Spanish of the Americas, but also within the many different dialect within Spain and within Hispanic America.


Spanish has a phonetic alphabet

Spanish has a phonetic writing system, which means you can look at a written word and know how to pronounce it or hear a word and know how to spell it. Usually, when you see a letter in Spanish you know how it should sound – unlike English for instance, where most letters can sound in various ways depending on their position in the word and other factors.


The Royal Spanish Academy rules the use of the language

Founded in 1713 under the protection of the Spanish Crown, the Royal Spanish Academy has the goal of creating and maintaining the official Spanish dictionary. It is not lawfully enforced but most of the Hispanic countries have adopted it as the main and superior reference, especially in Spain and Latin America.


Spanish has been influenced by other languages

Linguists recognize three different periods in which Spanish has been heavily influenced by other languages, molding it to what it is today.

The first period dates back to the origins when Latin was the main influence. The second period takes place around the year 700 A.C. when the Arabs invaded Spain and the language adopted many of their words and mannerisms. Today, about 4,000 Spanish words are related to Arabic.

The last period is actually taking place right now, and the last influence comes from the English language, with words related to new cultural and technological waves, which Spanish speakers are borrowing without adapting them to their language: jeans, [computer] mouse, email, click, link, etc. Even if Anglicisms are mostly used in Latin America, people in Spain also tend to say “soporte técnico” instead of “asistencia técnica” (the official term) when they are speaking about technical support, or use of the term “global” instead of “mundial”.


The US could become the largest Spanish speaking country

With more than 120 million inhabitants, Mexico is currently the largest Spanish speaking country in the world, but that might be changing soon. If the growth projections for the Latino population stay as they are, the US could become the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world by 2050.


It is one of the easiest languages to learn

Spanish is said to be one of the easiest languages to learn. According to a study carried out by the US Foreign Service Insitute, a native English speaker requires an average of 23-24 weeks and between 575 and 600 classroom hours to become proficient in Spanish. For native English speakers, learning Spanish may be easier than other languages because they share the same alphabet, Spanish has a straightforward pronunciation system and fewer irregularities than other Latin-based languages.


Similarities with English

English and Spanish are obviously different but given both of them have been influenced by Latin, the alphabet is almost equivalent. Loanwords have been adopted by the two languages and others are simply just the same – though pronounced differently!

  • Balance – Balance
  • Area – Area
  • Circular – Circular
  • Coma – Coma
  • Flexible – Flexible
  • Nostalgia – Nostalgia

However, be careful with false friends! These are words similar to their counterparts in Spanish, but using them might get you in some uncomfortable situations:

  • Rope – Ropa [clothes]
  • Embarrassed – Embarazada [pregnant]
  • Molesting – Molestar [to bother]
  • Contest – Contestar  [to answer]


Inverted exclamation and question marks

Most languages us a single question mark at the end of an interrogative sentence: “Where do you live?”. This was also true for Spanish long ago. However, the inverted question mark was adopted around 1754, when the Real Academia’s recommended applying the symbol to indicate the beginning of a question in written Spanish—e.g. “¿Cuántos años tienes?”. The institution also ordered the same inverted-symbol system for statements of exclamation, using the symbols “¡” and “!”.

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