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The Spanish Language in Latin America

May 13, 2021

I think you agree with me that if you go to a Spanish speaking country, you want to speak Spanish, right? Knowing some basic Spanish words and phrases will help you have a better experience when you will go to Latin America.

The thing is, only few people in Central- and South America speak English. If you consider how many countries there are, it is not a surprise that English is not necessarily useful to know as a citizen of Latin America.

In this article, we’ll dive into the size of the Spanish language, and why it is so important to learn some Spanish phrases like “excuse me” and “how are you”.

The size of the Spanish Language

The population of South America and Central America together accounts for 639 million people, of which 60% speak Spanish as their first language. The other 40% mainly speaks Portuguese and French. If you consider how many countries there are in Central- and South America that speaks Spanish compared to Portuguese this might seem low. However, Brazil, the only country that speaks Portuguese, is the biggest and most populous country in Latin America and accounts for a large proportion of the population of South America.

Not only the population of Central- and South America speak some Spanish phrases, the language is way bigger than that. It is spoken in (obviously) Spain, but also the U.S., Canada and even in Africa! In total, there is an estimate of 570 million people that speak Spanish. So don’t think there’s only Spanish Spain.

If you look at native Spanish speakers, there are 480 million speakers around the globe. This makes Spanish the second largest natively spoken language in the world, right after Chinese in the first place and followed by English in the third place.

Although Chinese is the largest natively spoken language, the cool thing about Spanish is that it is spoken around the globe. It is spoken in four different continents! Take that China!


The origin of the Spanish language in Latin America

The Spanish language has its origins in vulgar Latin, the language of the Romans that was studied by the Iberian peninsula (which is a fancy name for Portugal and Spain together) for 700 years. With influences coming from Celtiberian, Basque, Visigothic and later also Arabic, the language developed from Latin.

Notable differences in Spanish phrases and words are the exclusion of complex Latin cases, and the softer consonants like Vita became Vida (sounds better right?).

When Christoffel Columbus took the boat and sailed to the west, he shared some Spanish phrases with the population of South America and Central America. As there was an agreement that Latin America would be divided into two parts between Spain and Portugal, it becomes obvious why Brazil is the only country not speaking Spanish.


Travel in Spanish

It has become quite common to travel after, before or during your study abroad or internship to other Latin American countries. When you meet the population of South- or Central America, you want to know some Spanish phrases to cover yourself. It would be a bit embarrassing if you have to say “excuse me” in Spanish all the time because you don’t know what to say.

In another article, we cover some basic Spanish phrases and words for dummies. This should help you out when you want to travel to Spanish speaking countries.

The reason why this is important is that the population of South- and Central America simply love it when you attempt to speak their language. You will be able to connect much more easily with people and they will help you to speak their language. Don’t forget, we’ve seen how many countries in South- and Central America speak Spanish and how significant this language is. Therefore, they see the English language as less important than you probably do. So trying to speak English with them might cause some frustration for the local Spanish speakers.


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