If you feel like Spanish is everywhere, you’re not too far from the truth. Spanish today is the second-most widely spoken native language in the world, second only to Mandarin Chinese. When comparing total speakers, Spanish is still in the top-five list. Almost 550 million people speak Spanish today, including over 470 million native speakers.

So where are all these people speaking Spanish? Around the world, 20 countries have Spanish as an official or the official language. That means the government and businesses communicate in Spanish, that Spanish is taught in schools, and that most people speak the language natively. In addition, a few countries and regions have Spanish spoken widely, even if it’s not the official language.

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What are these countries, and what are they like? We’ll explore each of these countries and what makes them a unique part of the Spanish-speaking world.

Spain: where Spanish started

Although Spaniards have been speaking Spanish longer than anyone, the country barely accounts for 10% of the world’s Spanish-speaking population. But it’s here where Spanish started, evolving from Latin over thousands of years to the Spanish we hear and speak today. If you’re having trouble with some of the trickier parts of Spanish, such as reflexive verbs and the conditional tense, you can thank Latin for that!

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This brings up an interesting question: does everyone in Spain speak Spanish? When most people think of the Spanish language, they’re actually thinking of Castilian (Castellano). The first monarchs who united modern Spain spoke Castilian, which is why it became the dominant language. When Spanish explorers, missionaries, and conquistadors came to the Americas, they all spoke Castilian. Eventually, Castilian became known as simply Spanish.

But Castilian is just one of several languages in Spain. Other widely spoken languages include Catalan, Galician, Aragonese, and Aranese. All of these languages are derived from Latin and so are quite similar to Castilian. Then there’s Basque, a language spoken in northeastern Spain, including Bilbao. Basque is completely unrelated to any other modern language.

Most of the other languages of Spain are co-official with Castilian in their native regions. This means that either language can be used in schools and businesses. If you’re traveling to any of these regions, don’t worry. Almost everyone will be fluent in Castilian.  

Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America

The majority of Spanish speakers live in Latin America. Latin America is a collection of Spanish-speaking countries located in these regions:

Every Latin American country was once a colony of Spain, but that’s where the similarities end. Each country has its own unique history, culture, and even Spanish dialect. Here is a quick overview of each Latin American country.

Argentina

Fun Facts: Argentina is famous for its world-class beef and wine. Argentinian is also known for its distinctive rioplatense Spanish. This is named after the great Río de la Plata, which flows through Buenos Aires. You’ll know rioplatense Spanish when you hear it; rather than pronouncing “y” sounds as other Spanish and English speakers, Argentinians pronounce this letter as “sh.”

Bolivia

Fun Facts: How can a country have two capitals? Bolivia’s constitution officially designates the capital city as Sucre, which was the country’s capital since 1826. But the city is isolated from the rest of the country. Starting in the 20th century, the Bolivian government moved most of its operations to La Paz. Today, the National Congress and presidential palace are in La Paz. But the supreme court remains in Sucre.

Chile

Fun Facts: Chile is a land of extremes. In the north of the country, the Atacama Desert is the driest place on Earth. The average rainfall is just 0.6 in (15 mm) per year, and some parts of the desert haven’t seen rain since people started recording the weather there. On the other end of the country, the southernmost tip of Chile is closer to Antarctica than any other country. This makes Chile the southernmost country in the world. 

Colombia

Fun Facts: With over 50 million people, Colombia is the second-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. The country is also a unique crossroads, bordering the Pacific, Caribbean, and Central America. Though Colombia features many vibrant cities and urban areas, Colombia is also famous for its biodiversity. The country has the largest species density as well as the most endemic species (species found nowhere else in the world). 

Costa Rica

Fun Facts: Costa Rica, which means “rich coast” in English, absolutely lives up to its name. The country borders both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. But Costa Rica is more than just luxury resorts. Costa Ricans are proud of the biodiversity in their country and are pioneers in ecotourism. If you want to see Costa Rica at its best, walk the Camino de Costa Rica (way of Costa Rica), a trail that connects you to both oceans.  

Cuba

Fun Facts: Just 90 miles (144 km) from Florida, Cuba is closer to the United States than any other Spanish-speaking company besides Mexico. In the past, a few islands in Cuba were well-known pirate hideouts. If you love the stories of Treasure Island and Peter Pan, you can thank Cuba for inspiring these literary classics. The country’s close proximity to Haiti has led to enough migration that you’re likely to hear Haitian Creole along with Spanish on the street. 

Dominican Republic (República Dominicana)

Fun Facts: When Christopher Columbus reached the New World in 1492, he first landed on Hispaniola, the island of the present countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Four years later, he founded the city of Santo Domingo. A lot of the original city buildings and streets still exist today in the colonial quarter. Though Columbus eventually died in Spain, his remains made several more ocean crossings over the centuries. Both Spain and the Dominican Republic claim to have the true remains of the legendary explorer.

Ecuador

Fun Facts: Ecuador is the Spanish word for “Equator,” so it’s no surprise that this is one of the few countries located in two hemispheres. Quito, the capital, is less than 30 miles (48 km) from the Equator. Ecuador is remembered as the first Spanish colony to declare independence from Spain. This led to a cascade of independence movements in Latin America throughout the 19th Century. Ecuador is also home to the Galápagos Islands, where people can still experience the island’s unique flora and fauna just as Charles Darwin did 200 years ago.

El Salvador

Fun Facts: If you’re familiar with Spanish names, then you know how long they can be — King Felipe VI of Spain has at least seven. The original name of El Salvador was Provincia De Nuestro Señor Jesus Cristo, El Salvador Del Mundo, that is, “Province of Our Lord Jesus Christ, The Savior of the World.” Luckily, people shortened the name over time to the more familiar El Salvador. A small country with about 7 million people, El Salvador made world news as the first country to adopt Bitcoin as official currency. But don’t worry. You can still pay in US Dollars, which have been accepted in the country since 2001.

Guatemala

Fun Facts: Guatemala was named after an indigenous Nahuatl word that means “place of many trees.” After gaining independence from Spain, Guatemala became the political center of the newly formed Federal Republic of Central America. Shortly after, it became part of the Mexican empire. Today, tourists flock to Guatemala to see the country’s Mayan archaeological sites and natural wonders, such as Lake Atitlán, the deepest lake in Central America.

Honduras

Fun Facts: Well before Europeans set foot in Honduras, the land was already home to a great empire of the Mayans. The Mayans are known for having developed one of the earliest writing systems as well as advanced architecture, mathematics, and astronomy.

México

Fun Facts: With over 125 million people, Mexico is the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. Its capital city alone is more than twice as big as Madrid in Spain. If you’re planning to visit, Mexico truly has something for everyone. Mexico City is as walkable and as full of public art and museums as any European capital. The resorts of the Yucatan peninsula draw tourists all over the world looking to be pampered. And the entire country is dotted with ancient cities, ruins, volcanoes, and trails.

Nicaragua

Fun Facts: As you learn more Spanish, you may come across one of the great poems or works of Rubén Darío, a celebrated Nicaraguan author of the 19th Century. Darío is often credited as starting the Spanish-American modernism movement. Nicaragua has kept its progressive roots ever since. In 1990, Violeta Chamorro became the first democratically elected female president in the Americas.

Panamá

Fun Facts: Panama is the true crossroads of the world. From East to West, Panama is the link between North and South America. And from North to South, the Panama Canal connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The capital, Panama City, is located on the Pacific end of the Panama Canal and is a global business and financial center. Because Panama attracts so many international businesses, you can hear English spoken, especially in urban areas. French is also heard to a lesser extent, reflecting Panama’s past connections with France.

Paraguay

Fun Facts: Paraguay is one of two landlocked countries in South America (Bolivia is the other). But that doesn’t stop Paraguayans from taking to the water. Beaches, coasts, and ports along the Paraguay and Paraná Rivers have allowed Paraguay to access the Atlantic and flourish commercially. In addition to Spanish, most Paraguayans speak Guaraní, an indigenous language in the area.

Peru

Fun Facts: You might say that Peru is a country that’s all about altitude. Peru is famous for being the center of the mighty Inca Empire, whose great cities and buildings in the mountains included Cusco and Machu Pichu. Within the great Andes mountains, you can also find the source of the Amazon River, the largest river in the world by volume. Peru also boasts the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca. 

Uruguay

Fun Facts: Situated across the Río de la Plata from Argentina, Uruguay is a small country that’s gained a reputation for tolerance and prosperity. Uruguay is ranked among the best countries in Latin America in terms of income equality, press freedoms, anti-corruption, and personal rights. Uruguay was one of the first countries in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage. And in 2013, it was the first modern country to legalize recreational cannabis.

Venezuela

Fun Facts: Venezuela is on the northern coast of South America, which means that the country has long had ties with nearby Caribbean countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, Curaçao, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba. Over the years, people from Europe and China settle in Venezuela, which means that you might hear some very surprising languages on the streets of Caracas. Venezuela’s landscape and terrain include coastlines, mountains, huge lakes, and fertile river deltas. One of the most spectacular light displays in the world, the Catatumbo lightning, occurs at Lake Maracaibo. Here, great lightning storms occur for half the year, for hours each day. 

Spanish in Africa

There is one Spanish-speaking country along with two additional Spanish-speaking cities in Africa.

Equatorial Guinea is the only Spanish-speaking country in Africa. The country is located on the western coast of Central Africa along the Equator. Equatorial Guinea counts Spanish among one of three official languages — the others are French and Portuguese. But Spanish is by far the dominant language in government and education as well as in everyday life.

The people of Equatorial Guinea also speak several Aboriginal languages, such as Fang and Bube.

Outside of Equatorial Guinea, you may be surprised to learn that Spain is not just in Europe. The two autonomous Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla are located on the north coast of Africa. As you would expect, Spanish is the official language in these cities, but most of the people here also speak Arabic. 

Other countries and places where Spanish is spoken

Just because a language isn’t official in a country doesn’t mean that it’s not spoken there. Here are three countries and areas where Spanish is a dominant or major language.

Andorra

Catalan is the official language of Andorra, a small country in between France and Spain. But enough Spaniards live and work in Andorra to make Castilian Spanish understood by almost everyone in this small country.

Belize

Belize is the only Central American country where English is the official language. Still, well over half of the people of Belize speak Spanish along with Belize Kriol, a language that contains elements of English, Mískito, and West African languages.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is technically part of the United States — all Puerto Ricans are US citizens and can get US passports — but you’re likely to hear more Spanish than English here. Still, English and Spanish are both official languages in Puerto Rico, and legal documents will contain translations into both languages. 

Make your way around Latin America like a native with conversational Spanish

Ready to explore one (or more) of these beautiful Spanish-speaking countries? Brush up on your Spanish with our list of Spanish adjectives or take a look at our guide on ways to learn Spanish. Whatever you’re looking to learn, Udemy has a variety of Spanish language courses that will help you achieve your language learning goals in no time.

Page Last Updated: October 2021

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