Five things to know about the Galician language

You may have visited Galicia, but what do you know about the Spanish region's unique language? Here are five things to know about Galician or Galego.

Santiago de Compostela
Santiago Cathedral in Galicia. Photo: javier alamo / Pixabay

It’s a language, not a dialect

Many may assume that Galician or Galego is just a dialect of Spanish, but in fact, like Catalan and Basque, Galician is in fact a separate language. In 1978 the language was officially recognised as one of the five official regional languages of Spain.

According to Galician’s Council of Culture, before it was officially recongised, Castilian Spanish was the dominant language, socially and culturally, while Galician was marginalised. However, today it is taught in schools, there are media outlets written in Galician and it is more integrated into the society.  

It’s more closely associated with Portuguese than it is with Spanish

Both Galician and Portuguese are said to have derived from the same Romance language spoken around the 9th century called Galician-Portuguese, however around the 14th century these languages began to diverge slightly as borders were established. 

“Despite a divergent historical evolution since the Middle Ages, today Galician and Portuguese are mutually understandable almost effortlessly,” says the Galician Council of Culture. Today, Galician and Portuguese still have similar grammar and vocabulary, however there are differences in the way they sound and in the spelling of the words. 

READ ALSO: Ten unique Basque words you need to learn right now

It’s spoken by around 2.8 million people

According to the Galician government, Galego is spoken by 2.8 million people. It is spoken mostly in Galicia, but there are also Galician speakers in Asturias, León and Zamora, as well as three small places in Extremadura. 

Galician’s Council of Culture also says that it is spoken by immigrant communities in South America, particularly in Argentina and Uruguay; in Europe mostly in Germany, Switzerland and France. It also states that the majority of the inhabitants of Galicia speak Galician as their first language and use it on a daily basis. 

Galician has its own public holiday

Galician even has its own public holiday, known as Galician Literature Day or El Día de las Letras Galegas. It has been celebrated every May 17th since 1963 by the Royal Galician Academy as a tribute to writers of Galician literature.

Each year, the festival is dedicated to a different Galician literary figure, in 2021 it was the poet Xela Arias and this year, it will be dedicated to the poet Florencio Delgado Gurriarán, who was exiled to Mexico. 

READ ALSO: Five reasons why Galicia is Spain’s version of Ireland

Galician has over 70 words to describe rain

It is said that Arabic has many different words for ‘camel’ and according to language experts Galician has around 70 words to describe rain. It’s no wonder, as Galicia is known as the wettest region in Spain. 

The language has different words depending on whether the rain is light, heavy, if there are lots of clouds or if it’s sunny and raining at the same time. For example, ‘Battuere‘ is used when the rain is intense and ‘Torbón‘ describes rain accompanied by thunder and lightning. While ‘Sarabiada‘ means the rain that falls on ice and snow. 

Useful words and phrases in Galician: 

Next time you’re in Galicia, why not try speaking some Galician for yourself? Here are a few useful words and phrases to get you started. 

Bos días – Good morning 

¿Como te chamas? – What’s your name?

¿Falas galego? – Do you speak Galician?

Saúde! – Cheers 

Bo proveito! – Bon appetit or Enjoy your meal 

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¡Qué risa!: Ten Spanish expressions to talk about laughing like a local

Spaniards are a happy bunch who don’t hold back on laughing or talking about times they were in stitches. These expressions should help you navigate the language that’s used in comical situations in Spain.

laughing vocaculary spain
Learn to talk in Spanish about laughing, as you may be do plenty of it while living in Spain. Photo: Nicolás Borie Williams/Pixabay

Have you ever received this text message from a Spanish friend – “ja ja ja” – and not known what they meant by it initially? This is of course the Spanish version of ‘ha ha ha’ as phonetically the j in Spanish sounds like an h in English.

But not all Spanish expressions relating to laughing are so straightforward, with everything from dying, breaking body parts and toilet habits entering the conversation during funny moments.

Here’s a variety of Spanish expressions, some ruder than others, which will help you know what to say during hilarious situations or when talking about them later on. 

¡Qué risa!

Let’s start with the basics. If you find something funny (gracioso), because it is indeed comical (hace gracia), this will make you laugh (reir) and that sound of joy that comes out of your mouth is called risa (laughter).

¡Qué risa/s!” is what Spaniards will shout out while laughing about something they’ve found very funny or when recalling it. Depending on the tone, it can also be used in an ironic way to imply that something isn’t funny at all.

Example: ¡Qué risas anoche! Hacía tiempo que no me reía tanto.

What a laugh last night! It had been a while since I laughed so much.

laugh spanish

Who doesn’t need some risas (laughter) in their life? Photo: Maia Habegger/Unsplash


Cojón, one of the most common ways to refer to a testicle in Spanish, is widely considered to be the word in Spanish with most derivative meanings. Descojonarse, which sounds a bit like it has something to do with removing one’s testicle, is a slightly vulgar but widely used way to say to crack up with laughter. You can also talk about something being descojonante, a bit like saying something is bloody hilarious. 

Example: Me descojoné cuando me contaste ese chiste!

I cracked up when you told me that joke!

Ataque de risa 

It may sound like a medical condition, but if you get un ataque de risa it means that you’re having a fit of laughter. 

Example: A veces no puedo aguantar la risa pero esta vez ha dado un ataque de risa. 

Sometimes I can’t stop myself from laughing but this time I had a fit of laughter. 

laugh spanish

Have you ever suffered ‘un ataque de risa’? Photo: Dave Moreno/Unsplash

Reírse a carcajadas 

A carcajada is the word for a loud laugh in Spanish, so if you say reírse a carcajadas it means to roar with laughter or to laugh out loud. Incidentally, young people in Spain don’t have a Spanish acronym to replace LOL (Laugh Out Loud) but do use the English version. 

Example: Cuando le ví estaba con sus amigos riéndose a carcajadas.

When I saw her she was with her friends laughing out loud. 

Troncharse de risa 

Here’s one of the most common and ‘cleanest’ ways to say that you’re laughing your head off about something. You can use troncharse by itself as a reflexive verb without de risa and it’s understood what you mean by it. Alternatively, the verb desternillarse (de risa) can be used in exactly the same way.

Example: Nos tronchamos con las historias de John. 

John’s stories have us rolling over with laughter. 

laugh spanish

Is ‘troncharse de risa’ (laughing one’s head off) the secret to a long, happy life? Photo: Ainara Oto/Unsplash

Mearse de risa

In its literal sense, this means to pee yourself laughing. And because Spaniards often verbally defecate on many things in informal speech (the prostitute, the milk, the salty sea), there’s also an even more vulgar version of this expression which is cagarse de risa (to crap oneself laughing). It’s not uncommon either to hear Spaniards say “me meo” (I’m peeing myself) when something has them in stitches. 

Example: ¡Es un cómico magnífico, nos meamos de risa!

He’s a great comedian, we peed our pants laughing!

Llorar de risa 

A milder way to say in Spanish that something cracked you up is to say that it made you cry with laughter – llorar de risa – just the same as in English. 

Example: Lloramos de risa con su disfraz de carnaval. 

He had us in tears with his carnaval costume. 

laugh spanish

Is there a friend you have who always makes you llorar de risa (cry with laughter)? Photo: Daniel Nebreda/Pixabay

Morirse de risa 

Seeing as laughter can cause all manner of bodily fluids to be metaphorically expelled during laughter, Spaniards take their assessment of funny situations one step further and may also die from laughter. The verb is morirse de risa and the adjective is muerto de risa

Example: El público estaba muerto de risa con tus chistes sobre el Brexit.

The audience was dying with laughter with your jokes about Brexit.

Partirse de risa/la caja/el pecho/el culo/la polla

To break oneself with laughter, or to crack your box, chest, bum or dick (in the same order as above), are all very common ways of saying to roll around laughing. It’s also common for Spaniards to just say “me parto” while they’re laughing at something. 

Example: ¡Cuando hablas con esa voz, me parto de risa!

When you talk with that voice, it cracks me up!  

¡Qué vacilón!

A vacilón is a person or situation which is funny and non-serious, because there’s plenty of guasa (joking around). 

A get-together with friends which leads to plenty of risas (laughs) because everyone is mucking about or clowning around (hacer el payaso) can be described as un vacilón

Example: ¡Qué vacilón en la cena de empresa! Hasta el jefe estaba haciendo breakdance.

Fun times at the company dinner! Even the boss was breakdancing.