One of our readers commented, "I spent five years learning Spanish, went to Barcelona and suddenly found out the Catalans are much keener on speaking their own language!". This sounds frustrating, but Catalunya is the most complicated case as people there are very proud of their language. The good news is that foreigners get a lot more concessions and you will probably be spoken to in Castellano once they realise. In cities you will generally always be OK speaking Castellano, but in small villages, especially with older people, things might not be so easy.
There are several regional languages/dialects in Spain (and not all are listed here), they range from very close to Castellano to completely different:
- Catalán is spoken in the region of Catalunya (whose capital is Barcelona). This is a Romance language like Castellano with French and Italian influences
- Valenciano is used in the neighbouring community of Valencia and is closely related to Catalán
- In the Northwestern region of Galicia, residents speak Gallego , which resembles a mix of Portuguese and Castellano.
- In the País Vasco and northern Navarra, Euskera/ Vasco is the traditional language. It is unique with non-Latin roots and completely incomprehensible to all speakers of other languages in Spain. With very few exceptions, Basques usually speak Castellano.
- In the Balearic Islands, Mallorquín is the principal dialect, similar to Catalán.
- In Asturias, there is Asturianu ( Bable) , which is quite similar to Castellano and is spoken mostly in the countryside.
During the time of Franco's dictatorship, which ended in 1975, all regional languages were suppressed along with separate regional identities. But in modern Spain they have become increasingly important, and many now have the status of official languages alongside Castilian Spanish.
Knowledge of these languages/dialects can be useful, particularly if you are doing business in Catalunya. However, you will do just fine speaking only Castellano as it is universally understood. For the sake of simplicity, we will refer to Castellano as just Spanish going forward.