spanish-language-facts

20 Spanish Language Facts That Will Blow Your Mind

Are you thinking about learning Spanish? Or have you been studying it for a while already? Or is Spanish, in fact, your first or second language?

Whatever your connection with this language might be, there are some fascinating facts about Spanish that are absolutely worth knowing. Are you ready to have your mind blown?

Quick Spanish Language Facts:

  1. Another name for the Spanish language is “Castellano” (Castilian) because it emerged from Latin in Spain’s Castile area.
  2. The letter “ñ” is very distinctive to Spanish. You can find it in words like: “España”, “añadir”, “uña”, “viña”, and many others. 
  3. The longest Spanish word is “electroencefalografista” which means the person in charge of running the test that detects electrical activity in your brain. It has 23 letters.
  4. The word “murcielago” (“bat”)  contains all the 5 vowels (a, e, i, o, u)
  5. According to the Royal Academy of Spanish (RAE), there are 88,000 words in this language. However, if you consider all the idioms and slang, the total number of Spanish words goes up to 300,000.
  6. The first document written in Spanish –  Nodicia de Kesos – comes from the year 959 AD. It is a grocery and cheese delivery list written by a monk. Who would have thought it was going to make history.
  7. The Spanish number 5 – “cinco” – actually has five letters. This is a unique coincidence that does not repeat in any other language.
  8. Spanish “R” and “RR” are probably the most challenging sound to pronounce for native English speakers. The word “ferrocarrilero” is the one with the most “Rs”. Are you ready to twist your tongue?
  9. Spanish is the only language that uses the plural form for the common greetings: “good morning”, “good afternoon” and “good night”. Look: “buenoS díaS”, “buenaS tardeS, and “buenaS nocheS”. 

According to some linguists, the reason is that the original greetings used to be longer and go like this: “Buenos días os dé Dios” (May God give you good days).

It is all exciting, but these nine quick curiosities were only meant to warm you up. 

Are you ready for some more Spanish Language Facts?

10. Spanish is the 2nd Most Spoken Language in the World

That is when you count only those who use it as their mother tongue. The first place belongs to Mandarin Chinese, with over 920 million people. 

Spanish is the official language in 21 different countries, accounting for 463 million native speakers. Spain is the cradle of the language, and South America is the continent where Spanish is spoken the most. 

Test Your Spanish Knowledge 👇

Did you know that there is also one African country that speaks Spanish? Equatorial Guinea – a small territory on the west coast of the continent used to be a Spanish colony. 

Another interesting fact is that due to demographic reasons (birth rate), every year the percentage of Spanish native speakers increases, while fewer and fewer of those who use Chinese, English, or French as their first language. 

That is great news for everybody who studies Spanish: there are simply more and more people you can communicate in this language with. 

11. Spanish is a very popular Second Language

You are not the only one who has realized it is a good idea to learn Spanish. There are in fact, almost 75 million people who speak it as their second language and approx. 22 million are currently learning it. 

Did you know that by 2050 the US will have the largest Spanish-speaking population in the world? That means lots and lots of opportunities to practice that language without even having to travel abroad. 

12. Spanish is One of the Easiest Languages to Learn for Native English Speakers

No kidding!

The US Foreign Service Language Institute ranks it as Category I Language, estimating that it takes around 24 weeks (600 hours of classes) on average to reach proficiency. 

In comparison, learning Japanese or Arabic would take you almost 4 times as long!

What makes Spanish so easy, you wonder?

One of the reasons is certainly many so-called “cognates” or “friends”, aka words that look and mean the same both in English and Spanish.

Here’s a few of them:

  • 🇪🇸 un accidente 🇬🇧 an accident
  • 🇪🇸 una blusa 🇬🇧 a blouse
  • 🇪🇸 una farmacia 🇬🇧 a pharmacy
  • 🇪🇸 una familia 🇬🇧 a family
  • 🇪🇸 un grupo 🇬🇧 a group
  • 🇪🇸 un limón 🇬🇧 a lemon
  • 🇪🇸 una lección 🇬🇧 a lesson
  • 🇪🇸 una clase 🇬🇧 a class
  • 🇪🇸 una fruta 🇬🇧 a fruit
  • 🇪🇸un parque 🇬🇧 a parque
  • 🇪🇸 un turista 🇬🇧 a tourist

The longer you study Spanish the more cognates you’ll spot. And each of them means less time memorizing vocabulary, right?

Don’t get overconfident, though, as you can also stumble upon “false cognates” – words that look similar, but have a totally different meaning.

Just like the ones below:

  • 🇪🇸 una carpeta – 🇬🇧 is not a carpet, but a folder
  • 🇪🇸 dinero – 🇬🇧 is not a diner, but money
  • 🇪🇸 una tarjeta – 🇬🇧 is not a target, but a card
  • 🇪🇸 embarazada – 🇬🇧 is not embarrassed, but pregnant
  • 🇪🇸 choquar – 🇬🇧 is not to choke, but crash
  • 🇪🇸 éxito – 🇬🇧 is not an exit, but success
  • 🇪🇸 una fábrica – 🇬🇧 is not a fabric, but a factory
  • 🇪🇸 realizar – 🇬🇧 is not to realize, but to carry out
  • 🇪🇸 recorder – 🇬🇧 is not to record, but to remember or remind
  • 🇪🇸 largo – 🇬🇧 is not large, but long
  • 🇪🇸 ropa – 🇬🇧 is not a rope, but clothes

Just imagine the look on the shop assistant’s face when you tell them you need some “fábrica” for a dress 😉

13. Spanish has Two Different Verbs that Translate as “To Be”

That’s right. 

One of these verbs is “ser” and the other is “estar”. 

🇪🇸 Soy profesora.
🇬🇧 I am a teacher.

🇪🇸 Estoy contenta.
🇬🇧 I am happy. 

See? I’ve used a different verb in each of these sentences, even though they both translate as “I am”.

I know what you think: “How on earth am I going to know when to use which?”

It takes some time to become intuitive about it, but roughly speaking, “ser” describes a permanent or long-term state, while “estar” is to talk about temporary situations or conditions. 

“I am from Norway” describes a fact that you can’t change, so the correct translation to Spanish will be “Soy de Noruega”.

“I am sleeping”, on the other hand, describes something momentary, therefore you should translate it as “Estoy durmiendo”. 

Does it sound a bit confusing? I get it. I, too, used to struggle with “ser” and “estar”. It gets easier with time, I promise. 

14. You can find Arabic influence in Spanish

You probably know that Spanish originates from Latin and belongs to the same Romance Family as French, Italian, Romanian, and Portuguese. (That is why you will be able to understand some of these languages when you speak good Spanish).

I call Spanish not only a Romance language but also “a language of romance”, and I am sure you’ll agree. Latin music, poems in Spanish, and native Spanish speakers themselves are a perfect definition of love and romantic feelings. 

Even though Spanish originates from Latin, 8% of its vocabulary has Arabic roots.

For those who wonder why that is, let me tell you a little bit of Spanish history.

At the beginning of the 8th century (in 711 AD, to be exact) Muslim army invaded the Iberian Peninsula. That territory (Spain and Portugal) remained under Arab influence for several centuries, inevitably absorbing part of their language.

Some of the most common Arab words that can still be found in modern Spanish are:

  • 🇪🇸 ojalá – 🇬🇧 hopefully, I wish
  • 🇪🇸 una almohada 🇬🇧 a pillow
  • 🇪🇸 azúcar – 🇬🇧 sugar
  • 🇪🇸 hasta 🇬🇧 until
  • 🇪🇸 algodón – 🇬🇧 cotton
  • 🇪🇸 un almacén 🇬🇧 a store or a storage room
  • 🇪🇸 un alcalde – 🇬🇧 city mayor
  • 🇪🇸 una aldea 🇬🇧 a village
  • 🇪🇸 un rehén – 🇬🇧 a hostage
  • 🇪🇸 una hazaña 🇬🇧 a feat

Who would have thought, right?

15. In Spanish, Apple is a Woman and Tomato is a Man

Yes, you’ve heard me just fine. 

Spanish grammar assigns a gender (masculine or feminine) to ALL nouns, not only the ones representing humans and other living creatures. 

So, no matter how crazy it may sound that “una manzana”  – an apple – is feminine, while un tomatea tomato – is masculine, you have to wrap your mind around it. 

The articles used together with Spanish nouns will help you identify their gender. 

When you see UN, UNOS, EL, or LOS – you’ll know the noun is masculine, like:

  • 🇪🇸 un carro – 🇬🇧 a car
  • 🇪🇸 un castillo – 🇬🇧 a castle
  • 🇪🇸 el desayuno – 🇬🇧 the breakfast
  • 🇪🇸 el cuarto – 🇬🇧 the room
  • 🇪🇸 unos fideos – 🇬🇧 (some) pasta
  • 🇪🇸 los zapatos – 🇬🇧 the shoes

Yes, you can picture all of them as men.

For feminine gender, look out for the articles: UNA, UNAS, LA, and LAS, for example:

  • 🇪🇸 una casa – 🇬🇧 a house
  • 🇪🇸 una montaña – 🇬🇧 a mountain
  • 🇪🇸 la cena – 🇬🇧 the dinner
  • 🇪🇸 la torta – 🇬🇧 the cake
  • 🇪🇸 unas monedas – 🇬🇧 (some) coins
  • 🇪🇸 las flores – 🇬🇧 the flowers

16. Spanish Formality Battle: Usted vs Tú

What do you say in English to a friend who looks tired?

“You look tired”. Sure thing.

And when you want to say the same to someone you don’t know very well, or someone you haven’t even been introduced to, yet?

You say exactly the same, don’t you?

Where am I going with all this? Well, in Spanish, YOU can be replaced with two different pronouns, depending on how formal the situation is. 

is for informal context (when you refer to a sibling, a friend, someone you know well).

USTED indicates a higher formality level and it is appropriate to use it when you talk to your boss, a clerk, or any stranger, really, especially if they are older than you.

(Tú) te ves cansado – is how you’ll tell a friend in Spanish that he / she looks tired. 

(Usted) se ve cansado – will be the proper way to note that fact in a superior. 

A fun fact: there even is a special verb when you want someone to stop treating you formally:

tutear to address someone with the “TÚ” form

“Tutéame, por favor”. 
Please, treat me as “tú”. 

17. Sentences in Spanish Don’t Need Subject Pronouns

This is another curious Spanish language fact, which I call “the mystery of disappearing pronouns”: you can build sentences in that language without having to name the subject. 

How is that possible?

As you may know by now, verbs in Spanish change their form depending on the subject, which means that each pronoun will be matched with a different form of a verb. 

Let’s take the verb CANTAR (to sing): 

In the present tense, its conjugation is like this:

(yo) canto I sing
(tú) cantas you sing
(él / ella) canta he / she sings
(nosotros) cantamos we sing
(vosotros) cantaís you (plural) sing
(ellos, ellas) cantan they (masculine and feminine) sing

As you can see, the verb CANTAR modifies its ending with every pronoun, while the English SING remains almost unchanged (with the exception of the “-s” it adds for he and she).

I can just say “Cantamos” and you’ll instantly know I am referring to us (nosotros). 

Can I keep using the pronouns anyway?

Yes, you can, although the sentences will not sound quite natural if you do.

18. Spanish Uses Double Question and Exclamation Marks

  • 🇪🇸 ¡Suerte! – 🇬🇧 Good luck!
  • 🇪🇸 ¡Socorro! – 🇬🇧 Help!
  • 🇪🇸 ¡Para! – 🇬🇧 Stop!
  • 🇪🇸 ¿Cómo? – 🇬🇧 What?
  • 🇪🇸 ¿Cuánto? – 🇬🇧 How much?
  • 🇪🇸 ¿Adónde? – 🇬🇧 Where to?

Have you noticed like all of these exclamations and questions have two “?” and “!” marks? 

If you pay close attention, you’ll realize that the ones before are inverted – which means that they are written upside down. 

This crazy feature is unique to the Spanish language and you won’t find it elsewhere.

It’s actually clever, because that way you can set the intonation of the written sentence right at the beginning. 

19. Every Spanish-Speaking Country Uses a Different Version of the Language

If you think the Spanish you’re learning at school is going to be the same one you’ll hear when you travel to a Spanish speaking country, get ready for a major surprise.

There are as many versions of Spanish as the countries that speak it. 

If you live in Europe, you’re probably taught to speak Spanish the way it is spoken in Spain (with the fancy “th” pronunciation of the letters “z” and “c”, the use of “vosotros” and local idiomatic expressions).

In Latin America, on the other hand, these letters are pronounced as “s”, and “vosotros” is replaced by “ustedes”). Have a look:

🇪🇸 La taza es azúl.
The cup is blue.

Spaniards would say: “La ta(th)a es a(th)úl”, whereas Latinos would pronounce it as “la ta(s)a es a(s)úl”.

Mind you, there are also clear pronunciation differences across Latin America and once you’ve been here long enough, you’ll easily distinguish between Argentinean, Colombian, Chilean or Caribbean accents. 

Vosotros sois nuestros representantes – that’s what the Spain version would be. 
You are our representatives 

Ustedes son nuestros representantesthat’s what a Mexican, Chilean, Colombian, or Peruvian would say.
You are our representatives. 

Are you ready for more?

The same idea, object, or a person can be called completely differently depending on what Spanish speaking country you find yourself in. 

Let’s suppose you want to have a beer in Spanish. Of course, you can always use the proper word “cerveza”, but the locals will always have their own slang for it:

Chela” is what you’ll hear in Mexico, Chile, Peru
Birra” is how they call beer in Argentina
“Pola”, “Amarga” or “Agria” is Colombian slang
“Fría”, “Negra” – Venezuelans like to call their beer “cold” or “black”

This is just to name a few. 

The way Spanish has developed in each country depends on the local culture as well as the influence of the native tribal languages that are (or used to be) spoken in a given area. 

20. Some Spanish words are impossible to translate into English

Given structural differences between languages, it is rarely a good idea to try to translate things “word by word” between Spanish and English. 

“Tengo hambre” literally means “I have hunger”, but it is absolutely not what you’d say in English, is it?

A way better translation is “I am hungry”

Another reason why direct translation is not a good idea is that some Spanish words are completely…untranslatable. 

Have you ever heard the word “sobremesa” just like in the example below?

“Después del almuerzo nos quedamos haciendo sobremesa por un par de horas”.

What the heck does it mean?

Well, sobremesa is a concept that refers to spending time around the table after a meal, socializing with other people, discussing politics, sports, gossiping, and catching up. 

So, the sentence in Spanish means that: “after lunch, we stayed at the table doing exactly THAT for a couple of hours”.

Among other unique Spanish concepts there are, for instance:

  • 🇪🇸 madrugar – 🇬🇧 to get up early in the morning
  • 🇪🇸 trasnochar – 🇬🇧 to stay up until late at night
  • 🇪🇸 desvelarse – 🇬🇧 to wake up in the middle of the night and be unable to fall back to sleep
  • 🇪🇸 friolento – 🇬🇧 someone who is always cold
  • 🇪🇸 acalorado – 🇬🇧 someone who is always hot

***

As you can see, Spanish is full of interesting facts, curiosities, and rarities. It is a language with a rich and diverse history and it is becoming more and more popular around the world. 

If you haven’t started studying it yet, I hope that today’s post will encourage you to give Spanish a try. You won’t regret it. 

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Joanna Lupa
Joanna Lupa
Polish by birth, Chilean by the turns of life. Has spent 20 years in that beautiful South American country working as a language teacher and translator. Has taught Spanish and English to students of all proficiency levels. Passionate about languages, books, and traveling. A mother of 2 trilingual teenagers.

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