Spanish Language Day


Observed annually on 23 April, United Nations Spanish Language Day (Día del Idioma Español en las Naciones Unidas) was first held in 2010 as a means of linguistic, cultural, and historical celebration, while raising awareness about the use of Spanish as an official language at the UN. The date was selected to pay tribute to the Early Modern Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, who died on 22 April 1616. Widely regarded as the most famous writer in the Spanish language and indeed Spain’s very own Shakespeare, de Cervantes Saavedra’s best-known work is Don Quixote, which is often cited as world literature’s first great novel.

The observation of Spanish Language Day is part of a larger initiative celebrating the United Nations’ six official languages. In doing so, the UN seeks to celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity, while encouraging equal use of all six languages in all aspects of the organisation’s operation. These languages are: Arabic (celebrated on 18 December, and boasting 382.89 million native speakers), Mandarin Chinese (celebrated on 20 April, and boasting 1.35 billion native speakers), English (celebrated on 23 April, and boasting 380.19 million native speakers), French (celebrated on 20 March, and boasting 73.74 million native speakers), Russian (celebrated on 6 June, and boasting 147.56 million native speakers), and Spanish (celebrated on 23 April, and boasting 485.50 million native speakers). Each respective language day seeks to educate and entertain people – raising awareness about the history, culture and accomplishments of the languages.

Spanish is a Romance language of the Indo-European language family. Within the Ibero-Romance language sub-group – Romance languages that developed on the Iberian Peninsula – Spanish is also referred to as Castilian or castellano, the language from the Kingdom of Castile, a province in northern Spain. Having evolved from Popular/Colloquial Latin, around 75% of modern Spanish vocabulary is derived from Latin, including the use of Latin loans from Ancient Greek.

Degrees of lexical similarity between Romance languages:

  • Spanish and Romanian > 71%
  • Spanish and French > 75%
  • Spanish and Sardo > 76%
  • Spanish and Italian > 82%
  • Spanish and Catalan > 85%
  • Spanish and Portuguese > 89%

Spanish dialects adhere to approximately the same writing standard, but the spoken varieties differ to varying degrees, while remaining (mostly) mutually intelligible. The differences between European Spanish and the Spanish of the Americas (español) are often considered to be the starkest due to “colonial lag” whereby a language is brought to and used in a colony independently of linguistic development occurring in the country of origin. Chilean and Honduran Spanish are considered the most distinct varieties.

Did you know?

  • Spanish is the second largest first language in the world after Mandarin Chinese, and the fourth most spoken language overall.
  • Spanish is also the second most used language on the internet and social media after English.
  • Mexico has more Spanish speakers than any other country – even Spain!
  • Around 4,000 Spanish words originate from Arabic.
  • Almost 33% of Tagalog words (the Philippines) originate from Spanish, which also greatly influenced other native languages of the archipelago.
  • Spanish is one of the languages with the most foreign language learners in the world, along with English and French.
  • Spanish has official language status in around 21 countries on 3 continents (America, Europe, and Africa).