Official languages

Colombian languages and dialects

Official languages

Spanish is by far the most widely spoken language in Colombia, and is also the country’s official language. However, each territory has an official local language, and bilingual education is mandatory in these areas.

In Colombia, 99% of the population speaks Spanish. There are also between 60 and 80 indigenous languages spoken by natives in particular areas. These indigenous languages, along with the languages brought by the slaves and the dialects of the conquistadors, has created a very interesting mix of language within Colombia.

Spanish is a Romance language. Its grammar comes from Latin, as well as French, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian. It does also, however, have Greek, Arabic and Germanic language influences, though these influences are mostly only visible in the vocabulary.

Sentences and words can sometimes be very long and complex. For students who are not native speakers of a Romance language, the most difficult part to master is the number of tenses. These tend to be very specific for past, present and future tenses. There is often also difficulty in understanding the difference between ‘ser’ and ‘estar’, which are both the verb ‘to be.’

Meanings of phrases can be expressed through intonation, for example politeness, anger or affection. Be careful because the same words can mean different things just because of the tone you use. When speaking, natives like to use diminutives and augmentatives. These suffixes vary a lot depending on the region. Become familiar with them, as they can make semantic differences at times.

Further reading

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