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The cities in Spain where the ‘worst’ Spanish is spoken

Once you pick up a bit of Spanish, you soon realise that some Spaniards are harder to understand than others.

The cities in Spain where the 'worst' Spanish is spoken
The people in this city speak some of the worst Spanish in Spain. Photo: Tango7174 / WikiCommons

Spain is an incredibly culturally and linguistically diverse country and like anywhere, the accents change dramatically throughout the country. 

Going from rural Andalusia to central Madrid, or up to the Bay of Biscay, for example, can feel like being in three completely different countries in terms of cuisine and landscape, but also language. 

Spain also, of course, has five other official languages besides ‘castellano‘ (Spanish): Catalan, Valencian, Galician, Basque and Aranese.

But even among the regions that don’t have their own official languages, there’s a huge range of local dialects and accents.

Some, as you’ve probably noticed, can be a little more difficult to understand than others, and according to research carried out by Spain’s National Statistics Institute, INE, in some parts of Spain people do actually speak ‘worse’ Spanish than others.

The INE’s ‘Encuesta de Características Esenciales de la Población y las Viviendas‘ survey has revealed that the two cities in Spain where the worst Spanish is spoken are Murcia, in the south, and Melilla, one of Spain’s two autonomous enclaves in North Africa.

READ ALSO: Why are Ceuta and Melilla Spanish?

According to the survey, 93.5 percent of the Murcian population has a good level of knowledge of the Spanish language, the second lowest percentage in all of Spain, behind only those living in Melilla, where 93.4 percent have a good grasp. In terms of the place where the ‘best’ Spanish is spoken, Asturias received a score of 98.4 percent.

This score simply means that around 6.5 percent of Murcianos and Melilla residents don’t speak Spanish ‘well’, which could include grammar mistakes and poor pronunciation. 


The explanation for Melilla’s relatively poor level of Spanish might be more obvious than the Murcianos.

Melilla is one of two Spanish autonomous cities in North Africa. The first, Ceuta, is bordered by Morocco on Africa’s northern coast, sitting on the boundary between the Atlantic and Mediterranean oceans. It is about 17km away from Cádiz province across the Strait of Gibraltar.

Melilla sits 250 km further eastwards down the coast towards Algeria and is just 12.3 km2 with a population of 86,000.

Like Ceuta, Melilla not only shares a border with Morocco but whole swathes of cross-cultural influence in things like food, trade and, crucially, language. If you’ve visited Melilla, you’ve probably heard that many people there (Spanish or Moroccan) speak both Spanish and Arabic.

Indeed, for some in Melilla, Arabic is possibly their first language, and in certain neighbourhoods in Spain’s North African cities, you might not hear much Spanish at all. Perhaps the prevalence of another language there dilutes the Spanish, relatively speaking, a little more understandable.

READ ALSO – Madrileños to gaditanos: What to call the locals from different parts of Spain 


Murcia, however, doesn’t really have that excuse. 

For those of you who’ve spent time in Murcia, the revelation that Murcianos might not have a total grasp of grammatically correct Spanish probably won’t surprise you. Murcianos are, of course, notorious for their thick accents, a multitude of sayings such as ‘acho‘, and a seemingly endless list of diminutive word-endings (putting –ico and –ica on the end of words).

Many in Murcia also drop the ‘s’ sound from the ends of words, something also common across Andalusia, so something like ‘los perros‘ (the dogs) becomes ‘lo perro’. As a non-native speaker, this can be a little confusing until you become used to it.

But the Murcian dialect, difficult though it may be to understand at times, is traditional Castellano. Murcia doesn’t have its own language like other regions do, but ‘panocho‘, as it is sometimes referred to, does have a few different historical influences, including from those from Catalan, Arabic and Aragonese after the Reconquista – with the classic ico/a word endings a clear linguistic legacy of this. 

Interestingly, the INE study showed that the second best language spoken in Murcia is English, as opposed to Arabic or French any other language you might think is more likely. In fact, 12.6 percent of Murcians can understand, read, speak and write English, a figure that is far from the lowest in Spain. Five percent of people in Murcia speak Arabic, trailing only Ceuta and Melilla.


According to linguistic experts, however, perhaps the perceptions of Murcianos and their grasp of Spanish are also rooted in classism. Murcia and Murcianos are frequently the butt of jokes from other Spaniards, whether in person or online.

Linguist Jorge Diz Pico told Spanish outlet El Español that these snobby perceptions about the Murciano accent and dialect are born partly from an absence of it in mainstream Spanish society: “The Murcian accent is absent in the mainstream media, and Murcianos who work in the media have to detach themselves from that accent out of shame,” he said.

“People associate those who talk like this with people of low social class and relate it to migratory phenomena within the peninsula” Diz Pico added. 

Though many probably admit that Murcianos may be a little difficult to understand at times, anyone who has spent time there would also likely tell you what wonderful people they are and that the accent, unconventional Spanish and shortened words are all part of the charm.

Local dialects are, Diz Pico says, an important part of the culture and worth preserving: “The accent is like a costume or type of music typical to a region. There should be no reason to eliminate them because they have associated prejudices”. 

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For members


Ten Spanish mistakes even Spaniards make

Frustrated with your Spanish? Don't sweat it: Even native speakers sometimes make mistakes. Here we list some of the most common ones - all in the name of making you feel better about yourself of course.

Ten Spanish mistakes even Spaniards make

It turns out English speakers don’t have a monopoly on mangling their language. Spanish speakers pepper their speech and writing with errors too.

A book published by Spain’s Cervantes Institute – Las 500 dudas más frecuentes del español – tackles the 500 thorniest issues faced by native speakers of Spanish.

From spellings, kiosco or quiosco? (you’ll see both) – to accents – porque or porqué? (the second is a noun meaning ‘reason’ or ‘motive’) – this article will help you clear up your doubts about the language.

But basta (or should that be vasta?) with all the small talk. Let’s get on with it.

¿Te escucho mal o te oigo mal?

I’m listening to you badly (‘te escucho mal‘) may sound horribly wrong in English but in Spanish, it’s become so widely used most Spaniards won’t even pick up on this bizarre mistake. The right answer is ‘te oigo mal‘ (I can’t hear you).

Te oigo mal. Photo: Robin Higgins / Pixabay

¿Ahí, hay o ay? 

Ouch! Wasn’t Spanish meant to be an easy language phonetically speaking? These three words are almost pronounced the same but may cause some Spaniards a headache when putting pen to paper. Hay (there is/are), ‘ahí‘ (over there) and ‘ay‘ is what flamenco ‘cantaores‘ (singers) scream or what you shout out if you’re in pain.

Ay, I’m being bitten by ants. Photo: Hans / Pixabay

Andé o anduve? 

The past simple form of the verb ‘to walk’ (andar) in Spanish trips up many native speakers who assume it to be regular. Right answer is anduve, anduviste, anduvo, anduvimos, anduvisteis, anduvieron.

What is the past simple form of the verb ‘to walk’ (andar)? Photo: 👀 Mabel Amber, who will one day / Pixabay

¿He freído o he frito? 

Brain frazzled yet? Well, not to worry because Spaniards often mix up the past participle of to fry (‘freído’) with the adjective fried (‘frito’). Food for thought.

Freído or Frito? Photo: Andrew Ridley / Unsplash

Subir para arriba, entrar para adentro, salir para afuera

In English, this would equate with ‘go up up’, ‘to go inside inside’ and ‘to go out’. It seems redundant, it’s grammatically wrong but the vast majority of Spaniards have used these forms more than once.

Subir para arriba? Photo: Bruno Nascimento / Unsplash

El agua, el arma, el hambre

Sometimes the gender (‘el’ or ‘la’) of nouns in Spanish is a bitch, pardon our French. It’s hard enough already for English speakers to label everything as either masculine or feminine, so when you get nouns that end with an ‘a’ but have a masculine pronoun it all gets very confusing. Still, many Spanish mistakenly say ‘este agua‘ or ‘este arma‘ when they should use ‘esta‘. 

El agua instead of La agua. Photo: rony michaud / Pixabay

¿Sólo o solo?

If you haven’t got your head around Spanish accents, rest assured many Spaniards aren’t clear on the rules either. Even the Royal Spanish Academy (the world’s chief body on the Spanish language) can’t make its mind up on whether to include an accent on ‘sólo‘ (only) or just leave it like solo (alone). Feel like you need a ‘café solo‘ (black coffee) now?

Do you need an accent with your café solo? Photo: David Schwarzenberg / Pixabay

Adding an unnecessary ‘s’ to second person past simple forms (‘fuistes’, ‘hicistes’, ‘llamastes’ and so on)

The letter ‘s’ at the end of words may be a relatively unheard sound in southern Spain, but in the rest of the Iberian peninsula, they’re rather fond of it. So much so that many Spaniards add it to verbs where it doesn’t even exist. By the way, it should be ‘fuiste’, ‘hiciste’ and ‘llamaste’.

Some Spanish people an extra ‘s’ onto words. Photo: Muhammad Haseeb Muhammad Suleman / Pixabay

¿Conducí o conduje? ¿Traducí o Traduje? 

Common verbs like ‘to drive’ and ‘to translate’ manage to catch out many Spaniards because of their unexpected irregular form in the past simple. The correct form for both verbs ends in -je, -jiste, -jo, -jimos, -jisteis and -jeron

Do you know how to say ‘I drove’ in Spanish? Photo: Pexels / Pixabay

Han solo

“What on earth is that choice of picture about?” you may ask. Well, this slide is only about one word- Han, solo. Terrible jokes aside, ‘there have been’ is not ‘han habido‘ in Spanish. The correct form is always ‘ha habido‘ but many Spaniards join the dark side. 

Han Solo. Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP