14 fascinating facts about the Spanish language

Did you know that in 30 years the USA could have the most Spanish speakers in the world? Here are 14 very interesting facts about the Spanish language which you probably didn't know.

Spanish language
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, author of 'Don Quixote', is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the Spanish language. But would he know how to spell Spanish's longest word? Photo: Curto de la Torre/AFP

Spanish has over 90,000 words

In the last review carried out by the Real Academia Española (RAE) – Spain’s official Spanish language body – there were 93,111 Spanish words, as well as around 19,000 borrowed from English. This means that in total, there are over 120,000 words.

It is the fastest language spoken

Have you ever felt that Spanish people speak very quickly and it can take you some time to process what they’ve said? This isn’t surprising because Spanish is actually the fastest language in the world, along with Japanese. Language speed is based on the number of syllables an average speaker can pronounce per second. Spanish and Japanese tie for first place, while languages such as German and Mandarin are the slowest languages. 

READ MORE: Why it’s true that Spaniards talk faster than English speakers (but there is a catch)

Spanish is the worlds second most spoken language

According to Ethnologue, one of the world’s top language resource websites, Spanish is currently the world’s second most spoken language, just behind Chinese (which includes both Mandarin and Cantonese) with 471 million native speakers worldwide.

If you take the number of native speakers, plus those who speak it as a second language however, Spanish comes in fourth place (572 million speakers, native and non-native), behind English, Mandarin and Hindi.

READ ALSO: Why is Spain called Spain?

In the year 2050, the United States will be the country where Spanish is spoken the most

With more than 100 million Spanish speakers, Mexico is currently the country that has the most Spanish speakers.

But according to Cervantes Institute, by 2050 it is expected to have been surpassed by the United States, where the Spanish-speaking population is growing rapidly. The United States Census Bureau estimates that Hispanics will represent 132.8 million of the US’s population in 2050.

The United States also has the most Spanish language learners in the world, followed by Brazil and France.

A poem by Spanish writer Miguelde Unamuno, written on some step in Calle Baños, Puerto del Rosario, Fuerteventura. Photo: Tee Cee/Flickr
A poem by Spanish writer Miguelde Unamuno, written on some step in Calle Baños, Puerto del Rosario, Fuerteventura. Photo: Tee Cee/Flickr

Spanish or castellano used to be referred to as cristiano (Christian)

When the Moors arrived in southern Spain, most of the population used the word ‘cristiano’ (Christian) to differentiate people who spoke Spanish from those who spoke Arabic, thus calling the language cristiano instead of castellano. 

Castellano (Castillian) is how people in Spain often refer to the Spanish language as a means of telling it apart from Spain’s co-official languages: Basque, Catalan (including the very similar Valencian and Balearic), Galician and Aranese. 

The term castellano refers to where Spanish was first spoken following the Roman’s departure from Iberia, but to many people, especially in Latin America, the language should be referred to as español (Spanish). 

Spanish is spoken on six different continents in 21 different countries

Spanish is a very widely spoken language, with native speakers on six different continents, not just in Spain and Latin America as thought by many.

These include 21 countries (and various regions) across Europe, America, Africa, Australasia and even Antarctica.

In Europe, Spanish is spoken in Spain. In America, it is spoken in all of central and South America with the exception of Brazil.

In Africa it’s spoken in Equatorial Guinea, in Australasia it’s spoken in Chile’s Easter Island and parts of Polynesia, and in Antarctica it’s spoken in Fortín Sargento Cabral (part of Argentina) and in Villa La Estrella (part of Chile).

The letter ñ is not exclusive to Spanish

The ñ was introduced in the 18th century, but it is not the only language in the world to use it. The letter is also used in Galician, Basque, Aymara (Bolivia), Quechua (Peru), Mixtec (Mexico), Zapotec (Mexico), Breton (France), Guaraní (Paraguay) and Tagalog (Philippines).

READ ALSO: Five fascinating facts you didn’t know about the letter Ñ in Spanish

The first document in Spanish dates from around 959

Historians differ somewhat on the first recorded document written in Spanish. Traditionally it was thought to be the Glosas Emilianenses located in San Millán de la Cogolla in La Rioja – notes that added between the lines of a manuscript that was originally in Latin, around the 10th or 11th century. However, others believe it is was a list of cheeses written around 959 by a monk in the San Justo y San Pastor monastery in La Rozuela. 

Spanish dictionary

There are around 90,000 Spanish words. Photo: DaModernDaVinci / Pixabay

Electorencefalografista is the longest word in Spanish

According to the RAE, the longest word in Spanish is Electorencefalografista which has 23 letters. It is often shortened to EEG and is used in medical terms when doctors need to measure the electrical activity of the brain.

E, A, O, L and S are the letters that are used the most in Spanish

The vowels ‘E’, ‘A’ and ‘O’, and the consonants ‘L’ and ‘S’ are the ones that Spanish speakers use the most. The letter ‘E’ comes in first place being used 16.78 percent of the words, followed by ‘O’ (11.96 percent), ‘L’ (8.69 percent) and ‘ (7.88 percent). ‘W’ is the letter that is used the least. 

‘H’ is the only letter in the Spanish alphabet which is not pronounced

‘H’ is the only letter in the Spanish alphabet which is silent, except when it comes after a ‘C’. All other letters are generally pronounced unless the person has a strong regional accent. In the past, many words that began with the letter ‘H’ were actually written in Latin with an ‘F’. Therefore, farina became harina (flour).

There are many Arabic influences in Spanish

Around eight percent of Spanish vocabulary has Arabic roots, unsurprisingly really, since the Arabs ruled Spain for around 800 years. You can often tell which words come from Arabic as they begin with ‘Al’ such as alfombra (carpet), la almendra (almond) and la almohada (pillow).

Spanish used to have two other letters in its alphabet

The letters Ch and Ll used to be part of the Spanish alphabet until the RAE decided to get rid of them in 1994. These letter combinations are still used a lot in Spanish however, but they are just not considered to be separate letters anymore.

There are around 18 million people studying Spanish as a second language

According to Spanish language and culture blog Fluent U, there are an estimated 18 million people currently studying Spanish throughout the world. Experts believe that in a few generations, around 10 percent of the world’s population will be able to understand it.

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¡Salud! The different ways to say cheers in Spanish

You may be familiar with the basic way Spaniards say ‘cheers’, but there are other Spanish expressions and habits associated with clinking glasses and making a toast that you’ll be happy to learn.

¡Salud! The different ways to say cheers in Spanish

Life in Spain comes with plenty of get-togethers and celebrations, and although alcoholic excesses are not generally part of the Spanish culture, booze will be a part of almost all social occurrences.

If you’re a foreigner who’s made Spain their new home, it’s therefore important to familiarise yourself with the language and idiosyncrasies that are part of such occasions.

Let’s start with the word for a toast, in the sense of honouring someone or something with a drink.

The noun for this is un brindis, which apparently originally comes from the German ‘bring dirs’, meaning ‘bring thee’ (as in, I’ll ‘bring thee’ a drink, a speech, etc.). There’s also the verb brindar, which means to toast.

So if you want to give a toast in Spanish, you should start off by saying me gustaría proponer un brindis por… or me gustaría brindar por… (I’d like to make a toast for) and once you’ve finished your speech you should raise your glass and for example say ¡Por los novios! (for the newlyweds) or ¡Por Juan! (for Juan!).

When it comes to clinking the glasses, Spaniards will often use the interjection chinchín, an onomatopoeia which pays heed to the sound, but it’s really the same as saying cheers.

The most common word used in Spanish to say cheers is ¡Salud!, which means ‘health’, in the same way as the French say santé and the Germans gesondheid. Spaniards may also direct their toast specifically at the person they’re drinking with by saying ¡A tu salud! (To your health!). 

You may be happy to learn that Spaniards don’t take the custom of looking into the other person’s eyes while clinking glasses or drinking quite so seriously as in other European countries, where the failure to do so carries the penalty of seven years of bad sex (ouch!).

A quick glance at the person you’re cheering with will go down well, however, as direct eye contact is the standard in social situations in Spain.

READ ALSO: Why does the birthday person pay for everyone’s food and drinks in Spain?

What is considered to bring bad luck in the bedroom is toasting with a non-alcoholic drink in Spain, so consider yourself warned.

Catalans have an interesting version of the Spanish cheers – ¡salut i força al canut! – which translates to ‘Cheers and strength to the purse’ in order to wish health and wealth, although some people wrongly assume it’s meant to wish people good virility.

While we’re on the subject, there is a very common cheering expression used in Spanish to do with rumpy pumpy.

After cheering, whether by raising a glass or clicking glasses, many Spaniards will then take their glass and quickly place it down on the table before lifting it again to take a swig.

Bemused foreigners will then be reminded that el que no apoya, no folla, ‘the one who doesn’t place it (the glass) down, doesn’t have sex’.

Does it make it any sense? Nope, but it does get a few laughs, and before long you’ll find yourself quickly tapping the base of your drink against the table through force of habit.

Another interesting habit that foreigners in Spain tend to find amusing is when a group of friends in a circle move their glasses in four different directions whilst saying ¡Arriba, abajo, al centro y para dentro!, which means ‘up, down, to the centre and inside’, the latter being when you drink.

So there you have it, ¡Salud a todos! (Cheers to everyone!)