Source: Lonely Planet Images (Photographer: Guy Moberly)

Spanish is classified as an Ibero-Romance language and is most closely related to Catalan, Galician and Portuguese. Spanish uses the Latin alphabet, and the acute accent on vowels to indicate stressed syllables. The letters Ñ and ñ are exclusive to Spanish and represent a single letter and not a modification of n. Spanish and Catalan are the only languages to use the opening question and exclamation marks ¿ ¡ [1]

Spanish is the official language in Spain, including the Balearic and Canary Islands and the Northern African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. It is the official language in 20 countries worldwide, many of them in Latin America, but also in Africa (Equatorial Guinea) [2] [3]. Spanish is spoken as a first language by about 352 million people, or by more than 417 million, including non-native speakers (according to 1999 estimates). It is an official language of the European Union, the United Nations and the African Union [4].

Although the use of Spanish is widespread, there are many pronounced dialectal differences among the various regions of Spain and Latin America in pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. For example:

Latin American dialects generally lack the sound “th” which is so prominent in Iberian Spanish. Speakers of Iberian Spanish pronounce words such as ciudad (city) as thiudad, whereas speakers of Latin American Spanish generally pronounce it as siudad.

Latin American Spanish has only one form of the second person plural — ustedes — which is used for both informal and formal address. In contrast, Iberian Spanish has two forms: ustedes (formal) and vosotros (informal).

A Spanish word in one Spanish-speaking country can have a completely different meaning in another Spanish-speaking country, or may not be used at all. For instance, the word for “computer” is ordenador in Spain, but computadora in Latin America. The word for “bus” is guagua in Puerto Rico but in Chile it means “baby” [5].

Useful Expressions:

How are you?
¿Cómo está usted? (formal) ¿Cómo estás?  (informal)
Excuse me
Perdón/Lo siento
Do you speak English?
¿Habla inglés?
Thank you
My name is…
Me llamo…
I’m from Canada.
Yo soy de Canada.
I’m lost. Where is the nearest telephone/train station/hospital?
Estoy pierden. ¿Dónde está el teléfono/la estación de tren/el hospital más cercano?
How much does it cost?
¿Cuánto cuesta?

Language Resources:

Try out this Spanish dialogue: Unión Europea: Un modelo para Norte América

Learn Spanish online with BBC
WordReference – Online Spanish dictionary/translation tool
Ultralingua web – Spanish language site with conjugation, translation and reference tools
Spanish Pronto – Spanish language learning portal

Culture en español:

  • Sí, Spain | FR – A multilingual source for information about Spanish language, culture, history and geography
  • Click here for a comprehensive list of links to Spanish language newspapers and magazines from around the world
  • Tempted by tapas? Visit Ottawa Restaurants online and use the “list by type” search feature to find restaurants in the Ottawa area specializing in authentic Spanish cuisine. Buen provecho!
  • Interested in learning Spanish or studying in Spain? Visit the Spanish Embassy’s Education Office online to access a comprehensive list of courses and programs offered in Canada, Spain and around the world!
  • Looking for a Spanish class in the Ottawa area? Check out the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board’s (OCDSB) International Languages Program.

[1] Source: “Languages Across Europe: Spanish” BBC online Available online at

[2] Source: “Languages of the World: Spanish” National Virtual Translation Center

[3] Source: “Spanish Facts and Stats” About online Available online at

[4] Source: “Languages of the World: Spanish” National Virtual Translation Center

[5] ibid