spanish speaking countries map

Spanish-Speaking Countries: Geography, Population, and Culture

Maria Claudia Alvarado Published on May 16, 2024

Spanish is the fourth most spoken language in the world and the official language of 21 countries. However, the Spanish spoken in each country is unique and full of cultural and linguistic influences. In this guide, you’ll learn:

  • The 21 countries where Spanish is an official language
  • How many people speak Spanish in each of those countries
  • Cultural differences between Spanish-speaking countries
  • And specific Spanish words that come from each country

By the end of the article, you’ll have a complete understanding of the Spanish-speaking countries and how the language has evolved in each one.

Which Countries Speak Spanish?

There are 21 countries and territories across 4 continents where Spanish is the official language: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela. You can also frequently hear Spanish in countries like the United States, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom.

From Europe to South America and Central America to the African continent, Spanish is a diverse language that serves as a bridge for communication among many local languages and dialects. There are 559.1 million Spanish speakers around the globe, which makes this language the fourth most spoken worldwide. It is also a language that has been influenced by a number of other languages.

Do They All Speak the Same Spanish?

Over time, the Spanish language has changed due to factors like history, geography, and culture. Because of this, there are different dialects of Spanish all around the world. But this doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to understand the language from country to country. The base of the language is the same. 

The differences are usually slang words, everyday expressions, changes in pronunciation, and other cultural characteristics. For example, you may know the standard Spanish word for “party” is “fiesta.” However, the image below shows you the different words for “fiesta” across the Spanish-speaking world.

different words for fiesta (party) infographic

Below, you’ll find a list of the 21 countries that have Spanish as an official language, listed in alphabetical order. I break down how each country has adapted the Spanish language and give you some examples of unique vocabulary from each one. 

Table of Contents

Argentina

Bolivia

Chile

Colombia

Costa Rica

Cuba

Dominican Republic

Ecuador

El Salvador

Equatorial Guinea

Guatemala

Honduras

Mexico

Nicaragua

Paraguay

Panama

Peru

Puerto Rico *

Spain

Uruguay

Venezuela

*Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, but Spanish is one of its official languages.

Complete List of Spanish-Speaking Countries

Argentina

Spanish is the official language of Argentina. Currently, there are around 46 million people living in Argentina. It’s the country with the largest Spanish-speaking geographical area. A well-known trait of Argentinian Spanish is the use of “vos” instead of “tú,” which is called “voseo.” 

Other European languages are also popular in this country, like Italian, German, and English. As a result, it’s common to hear Argentinians use borrowed words from these languages. For example, in the Rio de Plata region, they speak a mix of Spanish and Italian called Rioplatense Spanish. Here’s a table with some unique Argentinian Spanish words:  

Argentinian WordEnglish Meaning
GrosoThe best/Really cool
LaburoWork
VoláLeave

Bolivia

Bolivia has a population of around 12 million people, out of which around 70% speak Spanish as a first or second language. While Spanish is an official language in Bolivia, other languages like Quechua and Aymara are also widely spoken. For this reason, it’s not uncommon to hear Bolivians speak Spanish with some loan words from Quechua, like “guagua” (baby) or “michi” (cat). Bolivian Spanish also uses “vos” instead of “tú.” Below, you’ll find a table with some unique Bolivian Spanish words: 

Bolivian WordEnglish Meaning
OpaA fool
PaparupaTo talk nonsense
ChangoA kid or someone younger

Chile

There are around 18 million people living in Chile and about 99% of them speak Spanish. As a fun fact, Chile is considered one of the countries that speaks Spanish the fastest. Chilean Spanish is also well-known for using a great number of colloquialisms, which can be confusing for Spanish learners and even for native Spanish speakers from different countries.

Torres del Paine, Chile

Luckily, there are a lot of dictionaries that can help you understand how idioms are used in this country. To help you get started, here’s a table with common Chilean Spanish words:

Chilean WordEnglish Meaning
AtaoTo have many issues with something
CacharTo understand something
CuicoA rich person

Colombia

Colombia has a population of around 49 million people.  Colombian Spanish can be very formal, and people often prefer to use the formal “usted” instead of its casual equivalent, “tú” when addressing one another. Most of Colombia’s population speaks Spanish, which is the official language, but there are also many indigenous dialects present in the rural areas of the country. Here’s a table with common Colombian Spanish vocabulary you’re likely to hear:

Colombian WordEnglish Meaning
GuaroAguardiente (Colombian liquor)
BacanoTo do something nice
RumbaParty

Costa Rica

Costa Rica has a population of around 5.2 million people. Spanish is the official language of this country, and around 98% of its population speak it as a first language. The use of “vos” instead of “tú” is also common in Costa Rican Spanish. Some usual Costa Rican Spanish slang words and phrases include “tico” (Someone from Costa Rica), “hablar papaya” (speaking nonsense), and “mae” (dude). Here are a couple more common Costa Rican Spanish words you’ll hear in the country:

Costa Rican WordEnglish Meaning
BreteWork
SodasSmall restaurants that serve homemade food
ZaguateStreet dog

Cuba

Cuba has a population of nearly 11 million people. While Spanish is the official language of the country, many people speak a variation of the language which is now called Cuban Spanish. This variation consists of a mix of Spanish words and “cubanismos,” which are words unique to Cuba. For example, you might hear Cubans ask you, “¿Qué bolero contigo?” which can be directly translated to “What bolero with you?” but actually means, “How are you doing?” A “bolero” is a type of Cuban music genre, so this is a very creative phrase! Below, you’ll find a table with more common Cuban Spanish words:

Cuban WordEnglish Meaning
AcereFriend
BotellaTo give someone a ride
SurnarTo sleep

Dominican Republic

Around 11 million people live in the Dominican Republic, where the official language is Spanish. Like many other countries, Spanish was introduced to the Dominican Republic during the Spanish colonization period. Now, Dominicans speak Spanish with a mix of borrowed words from English and African influences. Some popular Dominican Spanish slang words include, “jevi” (heavy), “tíguere” (someone who is street-smart), and “pana” (dude). These are some other unique Dominican Spanish words:

Dominican WordEnglish Meaning
CoroParty
CocalecaPopcorn
DiqueSupposedly

Ecuador

Spanish is the official language of Ecuador, but Kichwa (or Quichua) is also spoken as a lingua franca in certain parts of the country. Ecuador has a population of over 17 million people. This country is very proud of its indigenous roots and encourages people to learn any of the 24 indigenous languages spoken in the territory. For this reason, it’s not uncommon to find Ecuadorians who also speak languages like Aymara, Quechua, or Kichwa.

Quito, Ecuador

As a result, you’re likely to hear them use borrowed words from these indigenous languages. These are some interesting Ecuadorian Spanish words you’ll likely hear:

Ecuadorian WordEnglish Meaning
AmarreteTo be greedy
GuacharnacoSomeone with poor taste
FarraParty

El Salvador

El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America where people speak Spanish, with around 6.3 million people living in its territory. Spanish is now the official language of El Salvador but, before the Spanish colonization, Nahua and other indigenous languages were widely spoken in the country. Currently, many Salvadorians speak Spanish with a mix of slang and Nahuatl. This mix is called Caliche or Salvadorian Spanish and is used to communicate quickly, sarcastically, and comically. These are some words you’ll need to master Salvadorian Spanish:

Salvadorian WordEnglish Meaning
BichoA kid or someone younger
RemarTo walk long distances
ChucoDirty or messy

Equatorial Guinea

Equatorial Guinea is located in the West of Africa, and it has a population of 1.6 million inhabitants. Equatorial Guinea has three official languages: Spanish, French, and Portuguese. This is the only country in Africa that has Spanish as its official language. It was part of the Spanish Empire until 1968. Like other countries around the world, Equatorial Guinea has its own variation of Spanish, called Equatoguinean Spanish. Bantu languages influence this dialect. For example, here’s a table with Equatoguinean Spanish words you’re likely to hear:

Equatoguinean WordEnglish Meaning
La chacraA messy place or a mess
PeluquearTo cut your hair
MangüeñaMango

Guatemala

Spanish is the official and most spoken language in Guatemala. However, 22 Mayan languages are also spoken in Guatemala. The country has a population of around 19 million, and about 93% of Guatemalans speak Spanish, but only 69% of them learned it as their mother language. Some popular Guatemalan Spanish slang words include “¡aguas!” (careful!), “bochinche” (chaos or a lie depending on the context), “cerote” (dude). Below, you’ll find a table with even more words in Guatemalan Spanish:

Guatemalan WordEnglish Meaning
BoquitasSnacks or appetizers
ChileroCool
PatojoKid

Honduras

Honduras has a population of around 10.4 million people. The official language of Honduras is Spanish. But, like other countries in the American continent, other indigenous languages are spoken in the territory. Honduran Spanish is also slightly different from the Spanish spoken in other parts of America. For example, they use “vos” instead of “tú” like Argentinians. Some useful expressions you can use when visiting Honduras are “¡Que más hizo!” (How cool!) and “Vaya pues” (used to tell people that you’re listening). Here’s a table with more Honduran Spanish words:

Honduran WordEnglish Meaning
CharrulaGood for nothing
GomaHangover
MuelaSomeone who is always distracted

Mexico

Mexico is the country with the greatest number of Spanish speakers. With a population of 129.8 million, there are over 125.95 million Spanish speakers living in Mexico. Many people easily recognize Mexican Spanish due to its unique accent.

Day of the Dead Celebration, Mexico

If you want to speak Mexican Spanish like a native speaker, you can use slang words like, “neta” (for real), “chido” (cool), and “morro/a” (boy or girl). Fun fact: Most films and TV shows get dubbed in Mexico for Latin America, so it’s very common to hear Mexican slang when you watch TV! These are some other common Mexican Spanish words:

Mexican WordEnglish Meaning
PadreCool
MalacopaSomeone who gets drunk easily
VarosMoney, often used to replace “pesos”

Nicaragua

Nicaragua has a population of around 6 million and the official language of the country is Spanish. Nicaraguan Spanish (sometimes called Nicañol) uses many loanwords from indigenous tongues still spoken in the country, like Mitsiko and English. “Vos” is also used instead of “tú” in Nicaragua. Some common slang words include “maje” (someone who brings trouble), “nica” (abbreviation for Nicaraguan), and “kiubole” (what’s up). Here’s a table with more Nicaraguan Spanish words used in everyday life:

Nicaraguan WordEnglish Meaning
ChisperosA lighter
AcalambradoTo freak out
NicaNicaraguan

Paraguay

In 1992, Paraguay declared itself a multicultural and bilingual country. There are two official languages in Paraguay: Spanish and Guaraní. Approximately 7.5 million people live in Paraguay, and around 50% of Paraguayans speak a mix of Guaraní and Spanish. Paraguay, like Argentina, also uses “vos” instead of “tú.” It’s very common for Latin American countries to speak with loan words from indigenous languages, but Paraguayan Spanish uses complete phrases or switches from Spanish to Guaraní when speaking. Here are some Paraguayan Spanish words you’ll hear in the country:

Paraguayan WordEnglish Meaning
HakuHot weather
ChakeWatch out
LuegoUsed to emphasize a past action

Panama

Spanish is the official language of Panama. Around 4 million people live in the country, of which around 90% speak Spanish. While Panama has its own set of slang words, they also have borrowed and adapted many words from English, like “parkear” (to park) and “troca” (truck).

Isla Diablo, Panama

Due to Panama’s history of colonization and African trade, many Panamanians also speak a mix of Spanish and African tongues. These Creole languages are Guari-Guari and Palenquero. Here are some Panamanian Spanish words you can use next time you pass through the country:

Panamanian WordEnglish Meaning
ArranqueParty
BirriaTo play a game or sport
JumaDrunk

Peru

Peru has three official languages: Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara. The country has a population of around 34 million, and 84% percent of the population speaks Spanish as a first or second language. In the Andean regions, it’s common for people to learn Quechua first and study Spanish in school. Peruvian Spanish also borrows many words from Quechua, like “puma” (cougar), “guagua” (baby), and “cancha” (soccer field or popcorn depending on the context). At the same time, Peruvian slang tends to adapt words from English, such as “huachiman” (watch it man) and “bisteck” (beef steak). Below, you’ll find a table with common Peruvian Spanish words:

Peruvian WordEnglish Meaning
AsarseTo get angry or upset
ChocheDude/Friend
Hacer chanchaSplit a bill

If you want to learn more Peruvian words, check out this article on Peruvian slang.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island and a U.S. territory, so it has two official languages: Spanish and English. Around 3.2 million people live on the island and 94.7% of the population speaks Spanish at home, but both official languages are heavily used. English and Spanish are used in daily life, work, and school, and it’s common to hear Puerto Ricans switch back and forth from Spanish to English in a conversation. A unique characteristic of Puerto Rican Spanish is the soft sound of the “r.” Here’s a table with Spanish words specific to Puerto Rico:

Puerto Rican WordEnglish Meaning
HanguiarTo hang out
MameySomething that is easy to do
BreagarTo struggle

Spain

Spain has a population of approximately 48 million and Spanish, also known as Castilian Spanish, is the official language on a national level. Besides Spanish, there are other official languages on a regional level like Basque, Catalan, Galician, and Valencian. There are also many dialects of Spanish in Spain, like Aragonese, Andalusian, Asturian, and Leonese. Interestingly, Spain is the only country to use “vosotros” for the second-person plural form (instead of “ustedes”).

Plaza de España, Sevilla, Spain

A fun fact about Spain is that they tend to translate the names of movies and TV shows quite differently from Latin American Spanish. For example, “The Power Puff Girls” are called “Las Supernenas” in Spain, which would directly translate to “The Supergirls” in English. Here’s a table with a few more words you’ll probably only hear in Spain:

Spanish WordEnglish Meaning
GuayCool
CurroJob
ValeOK

Uruguay

Uruguay has a population of around 3.5 million people and Spanish is the official language. Like Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay, Uruguayan Spanish also uses “vos” instead of “tú.” However, Uruguayan Spanish borrows many words from Italian and Portuguese. For example, “nona” (grandmother) and “parlar” (speak) are Italian words used in everyday conversations. If you’re visiting the Uruguayan regions that are close to Brazil, you might also hear, “abeia” (bee) and “despaciño” (slowly). This is a mix of Spanish and Portuguese and is often called “Portuñol.” Here’s a table with common Uruguayan Spanish words you’re likely to hear:

Uruguayan WordEnglish Meaning
MatearTo drink mate
GauchoA trustworthy friend
ZambearTo make up excuses

Venezuela

Venezuela’s official language is Spanish, but there are also many indigenous tongues still in use in the country. There are about 26.4 million people living in Venezuela, the majority of whom speak Spanish as a first or second language. Venezuelan Spanish is very special because it uses “tú,” “usted,” and “vos” to refer to the second-personal singular. This might sound confusing, but it all depends on the region you’re visiting. Most people in the cities of Venezuela prefer “tú” but “vos” is more common in the state of Zulia and “usted” is most popular in the Andes. Here’s a table with a few more common words to help you become familiar with Venezuelan Spanish:

Venezuelan WordEnglish Meaning
ChimboCheap or lousy
BurdaA lot
ChamoDude

If you want to learn more unique vocabulary, check out this article on Venezuelan slang.

How to Speak Spanish Like a Local in 21 Countries

Figuring out the best ways to learn Spanish is already difficult. It’s even harder if you want to learn a specific dialect of Spanish. There are 21 Spanish-speaking countries in the world, each with its own way of speaking the language. To help you get started on your journey, here are some steps you can follow to sound like a native Spanish speaker:

Find Authentic Materials

Finding authentic materials from the dialect you want to learn can show you how the language is used in real life. By reading news articles or books written by native speakers, you can discover new vocabulary and learn how to use unique phrases. Additionally, watching movies and listening to podcasts or radio stations can help you develop your listening comprehension and improve your pronunciation.

Practice Speaking Spanish

Practicing speaking in Spanish can make a big difference when it comes to developing your Spanish skills. Not only will it test your knowledge of the language, but it can also help improve your pronunciation over time. If you’re trying to learn to speak Spanish with a dialect in mind, you can find resources created by native speakers from that area and listen and repeat after them. There are hundreds of Spanish podcasts and YouTube channels available, so you can listen to each of the different Spanish dialects.

Chat with Language Exchange Partners

Even if you’re somewhere where Spanish isn’t spoken, you can easily find language exchange partners to chat in Spanish. Whether you’re trying to learn Dominican Spanish, Cuban Spanish, or Colombian Spanish, you can find a language exchange partner from one of these countries and exchange text or voice messages. Several social media platforms like Tandem or HelloTalk allow you to start chatting for free, too, so it’s a very affordable way to practice the language.

Find a Spanish Native Speaker Tutor

If you’d like to get more help learning a Spanish dialect, finding a tutor on an online platform like italki can be a good solution. A teacher can show you how to use “usted” instead of “tú,” how to conjugate verbs in the “vosotros” form, and everything you need to know about the “voseo.” If your goal is to sound like a local, studying Spanish with a tutor is one of the ways to learn.

Spanish-Speaking Countries: Final Thoughts

Learning about the different Spanish-speaking countries around the globe can turn your studies into a much more cultural experience. Every country has its own set of idioms, slang words, and dialects that can tell you more about the history and culture of its people. 

I hope this guide has helped you understand more about how the Spanish language is used worldwide. Speaking Spanish will help you speak with 559 million more people in the world. Learning Spanish takes time and dedication, so make sure to practice consistently to become fluent!

Maria Claudia Alvarado

Maria Alvarado is a content writer and translator from Lima, Peru. She graduated from the Savannah College of Arts and Design in 2017 with a Bachelor’s degree in Writing. She is fluent in Spanish and English, has intermediate knowledge of French and German, and is learning Japanese. She hopes to bring consciousness about the importance of language learning through her articles and aspires to learn as many languages as possible.

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