A Look at Spanish-speaking Countries and Regional Dialects

By: Karina Buggy  | 
No? You'll still want to visit these Spanish-speaking countries. atakan / Getty Images

Like English, Spanish is a global language with nearly 600 million Spanish speakers worldwide. There are many Spanish-speaking countries, from the 21 nations with Spanish as their official language, to other countries with significant populations of people who speak Spanish as their native language or as a second language.

The Chinese language has the most native speakers of any language in the world, but Spanish follows in second place with nearly 500 million native speakers around the globe. After Chinese and English, Spanish is the third most spoken language in the world.


Spanish is one of the six official languages of the United Nations, and is also an official language of the World Trade Organization and the European Union. The widespread use of Spanish and its importance in business, economics and media makes Spanish a practical language to learn.

Countries Where Spanish Is the Official Language

The Spanish language has a vast geographic reach. Spanish is the official language of countries spanning across four different continents.

Listed in order of population size, these are the 21 countries where Spanish is the official language:


  1. Mexico
  2. Colombia
  3. Spain
  4. Argentina
  5. Peru
  6. Venezuela
  7. Chile (including Easter Island)
  8. Guatemala
  9. Ecuador
  10. Dominican Republic
  11. Honduras
  12. Bolivia
  13. Cuba
  14. Paraguay
  15. Nicaragua
  16. El Salvador
  17. Costa Rica
  18. Panama
  19. Uruguay
  20. Puerto Rico
  21. Equatorial Guinea

Although Spain is largely associated with the Spanish language, Mexico actually has three times the number of native Spanish speakers. Colombia also has a significantly higher population of native Spanish speakers than Spain.

Notably, the regional languages of Basque and Catalan are the native languages of nearly 20 percent of Spain's population, even though the official language of their nation is Spanish.

Many people are surprised to learn that there is also a Spanish-speaking country in Africa. In the former Spanish province of Equatorial Guinea, a country located on the central west coast of the continent, Spanish is an official language, along with French and Portuguese. About one third of the population, or one million people, speak Spanish in Equatorial Guinea.


Brief History of Spanish as a Native Language

Spanish is a romance language that evolved from Latin after the fall of the Roman Empire in the Iberian Peninsula, the southwest corner of Europe that includes present-day Spain and Portugal. The language was heavily influenced by surrounding Romance languages, such as Portuguese and Catalan.

Castellano, or Castilian Spanish, first evolved in northern and central Spain, which is why Spain is largely associated with the language. The local culture and the language were influenced by the presence of Moorish rule and their Arabic language. Standard Spanish today still uses words that were derived from Arabic, as well as grammatical features such as gender agreement between nouns.


Between the 13th and 16th centuries, the language was further standardized in Madrid and Toledo. During the Reconquista, the language was brought into southern Spain. Andalusian Spanish evolved in the southern region and became predominant in the Americas.

In the 16th century the Spanish Empire expanded into Mexico, Central America and vast areas of South America. The Spaniards brought their language and culture along with them when settling in new areas, where natives were forced to integrate, thus creating multicultural populations and various dialects as a result of Spanish colonialism.

Many former Spanish colonies continued to use Spanish as the primary language even after gaining independence in the 19th century.

Following the Spanish-American War, the United States controlled Puerto Rico, but citizens continued to speak their native Spanish. Millions of Puerto Ricans have since immigrated to the United States, increasing native Spanish speakers on the mainland.

The United States unofficially recognizes Spanish as the nation's second language.


Spanish Speakers of the United States

Thanks to migrants and students of the Spanish language, Spanish is spoken widely around the world. In areas where Spanish is not the official language, there can still be a high population of people who speak Spanish, due to the presence of a Hispanic or Spanish culture.

In the United States, Spanish is the first language of over 13 percent of the total population, or nearly 40 million people. This, combined with the U.S. population of those who speak Spanish as a second language, makes the country the second-largest Spanish-speaking country worldwide.


Although Spanish is not the national language, the U.S. unofficially recognizes Spanish as the nation's second language due to its importance to the population. Broadcast media, official documents and public services are widely available in Spanish to serve the high population of Spanish speakers in the United States.

Spanish is the most popular foreign language to learn in the United States, with significantly more students than French, which follows in second place.

It can be practical for U.S. residents to learn Spanish to connect with the local Spanish-speaking population. It's also easier to learn Spanish if you have the opportunity to use the language in real life situations.

Learning Spanish can also improve travel experiences, since the Spanish-speaking world extends far and wide, and learning a language can help you professionally.


4 Examples of Spanish Language Dialects

Any country where Spanish is regularly spoken is susceptible to evolving into a new dialect with unique Spanish slang, idioms, accents, intonation, pronunciation or grammar. Beyond Spain, other Spanish-speaking countries have seen the language evolve to create a mother tongue to suit the local culture.

Even though it is technically the same language being spoken, it can sound very different country to country, but understanding standard Spanish can still help your understanding of more unique dialects.


1. Chavacano

Chavacno is a Spanish-based Creole language widely spoken across the southern portion of the Philippines.

The Spanish Empire ruled the Philippines for over three centuries (the country was actually named after Spanish royalty) and Spanish remained an official language of the Philippines until 1987. About three million Filipinos speak Spanish or Chavacno as their mother tongue.

2. Equatoguinean

Most Spanish speakers in Africa are based in Equatorial Guinea, where nearly 70 percent of the population is Spanish-speaking. However, there are also communities of Spanish speakers in Angola, South Sudan and Morocco, a North African country geographically close to Spain.

The Spanish spoken in Equatorial Guinea was heavily influenced by Bantu languages. In grammar and in pronunciation, Equatoguinean Spanish is more similar to Peninsular Spanish than to American Spanish dialects.

3. New Mexican

New Mexico is the only state that recognizes both English and Spanish as official languages. Traditional New Mexican Spanish is a unique Spanish dialect that has evolved from the earliest Spanish-speaking settlers in the state of New Mexico and southern Colorado.

The locals of Spanish descent have made this dialect survive for over 400 years, but with a decreasing population, the language is beginning to disappear.

4. Rioplatense

Rioplatense Spanish is a dialect from the the Río de la Plata Basin, currently spoken in Argentina and Uruguay. Notably, this regional dialect includes an intonation similar to the Neapolitan language of Southern Italy, influenced by Italian settlers since the 19th century.