Self-Access Centre - Spanish

Welcome to the Self-Access Centre materials database. Here you can find out about the Spanish materials available in the SAC.

If you are interested in studying Spanish at UCL, please click here.

The SAC is here to provide you with opportunities to study Spanish outside class time. You may feel extra study is necessary in order to achieve the exam score you want, or you may just enjoy studying Spanish. Either way, the SAC could be useful for you.

If you have a very clear idea of what you need to study in Spanish, use the Resources menu above to look for the study topics which are of importance to you. If you need advice and guidance on what to study, you should talk to your class tutor, who will help you identify your strengths and weaknesses and make recommendations on what to study.

We have a wide range of resources to help you study Spanish on your own. In the Self-Access Centre you can find course books, dictionaries, but also, reading, grammar and vocabulary books. You can also browse through magazines and newspapers in Spanish, watch online TV or listen to radio stations. There are links to BBC Languages programmes, which will allow you to learn Spanish by watching interactive videos. You can also watch Spanish films, TV documentaries, or course videos. You can also practice your Spanish by doing the online exercises.

A bit about the language

Spanish or Castilian (español or castellano) is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several dialects and languages in the northern fringes of the Iberian Peninsula during the 10th century and gradually spread through the Kingdom of Castile, becoming the foremost language for government and trade in the Spanish Empire. Latin, the basic foundation of the Spanish language, was introduced to the Iberian Peninsula by Romans during the Second Punic War around 210 BC. During the 5th century, Hispania was invaded by Germanic Vandals, Suevi, Alans, and Visigoths, resulting in numerous dialects of Vulgar Latin. After the Moorish Conquest in the 8th century, Arabic became an influence in the evolution of Iberian languages, including Castilian.

Modern Spanish developed with the Readjustment of the Consonants that began in 15th century. The language continues to adopt foreign words from a variety of other languages, as well as to develop new words. Castilian was taken most notably to the Americas, but also to Africa and Asia Pacific with the expansion of the Spanish Empire between the 15th and the 19th centuries. As of 2010, 329 to 358 million people speak Spanish as a native language and a total of 417 million people speak it worldwide. It is the second most natively-spoken language in the world, after Mandarin Chinese.  Mexico contains the largest population of Spanish speakers. Spanish is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.

Geographic Distribution

Spanish is recognized as one of the official languages of the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization of American States, the Organization of Ibero-American States, the African Union, the Union of South American Nations, the Latin Union, and the Caricom and has legal status in the North American Free Trade Agreement.


It is estimated that the combined total number of Spanish speakers is between 470 and 500 million, making it the third most spoken language by total number of speakers (after Chinese, and English). Spanish is the second most-widely spoken language in terms of native speakers. Global internet usage statistics for 2007 show Spanish as the third most commonly used language on the Internet, after English and Chinese.


  • Knowledge of Spanish in the European Union

In Europe, Spanish is an official language of Spain, the country after which it is named and from which it originated. It is widely spoken in Gibraltar, though English is the official language. It is the most spoken language in Andorra, though Catalan is the official language. It is also spoken by small communities in other European countries, such as the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. In Switzerland, Spanish is the mother tongue of 1.7% of the population, representing the largest minority after the 4 official languages of the country.


In Spain and in some parts of the Spanish speaking world, but not all, it is rare to use the term español (Spanish) to refer to this language, even when contrasting it with languages such as French and English. Rather, people call it castellano (Castilian), that is, the language of the Castile region, when contrasting it with other languages spoken in Spain such as Galician, Basque, and Catalan. In this manner, the Spanish Constitution of 1978 uses the term castellano to define the official language of the whole Spanish State, as opposed to las demás lenguas españolas (lit. the rest of the Spanish languages). Article III reads as follows:

Castilian is the official Spanish language of the State. (…) The rest of the Spanish languages shall also be official in their respective Autonomous Communities…

However, to some in other linguistic regions, this is considered as demeaning to them and they will therefore use the term castellano exclusively.

The name castellano (Castilian), which refers directly to the origins of the language and the sociopolitical context in which it was introduced in the Americas, is preferred particularly in the Spanish regions where other languages are spoken (Catalonia, Basque Country, Valencian Community, Balearic Islands and Galicia) as well as in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela, instead of español, which is more commonly used to refer to the language as a whole in the rest of Latin America and Spain. There is some controversy in Spain about the name of the language, which is a part of a greater controversy about Catalan, Basque and Galician nationalisms.


In Africa, Spanish is official in Equatorial Guinea (co-official with French and Portuguese). Today, in Western Sahara, an unknown number of Sahrawis are able to read and write in Spanish, and several thousands have received university education in foreign countries as part of aid packages (mainly in Cuba and Spain). Spanish is also spoken in the Spanish cities in continental North Africa (Ceuta and Melilla) and in the autonomous community of Canary Islands. Within Northern Morocco, a former Franco-Spanish protectorate that is also geographically close to Spain, approximately 20,000 people speak Spanish as a second language. It is spoken by some communities of Angola, because of the Cuban influence from the Cold War, and in Nigeria by the descendants of Afro-Cuban ex-slaves.


During Spanish control, it was an official language of the Philippines, until the change of Constitution in 1973. During most of the colonial period it was the language of government, trade and education, and spoken mainly by Spaniards and mestizos as a first language and more significantly as a second language by more than half of the indigenous population. However, by the mid 19th century a free public school system in Spanish was established throughout the islands, which increased the numbers of Spanish speakers. Following the U.S. occupation and administration of the islands, the strong Spanish influence amongst the Philippine population proved to be a major foe against the imposition of English by the American government, especially after the 1920s. The US authorities' conducted a campaign of solidifying English as the medium of instruction in schools, universities, and public spaces and prohibited the use of Spanish in media and educational institutions which gradually reduced the importance of the language generation after generation. After the country became independent in 1946, Spanish remained an official language along with English and Tagalog-based Filipino. However, the language lost its official status in 1973. Under the administration which took office in 1986, the mandatory teaching of Spanish in colleges and universities was also stopped, and thus, younger generations of Filipinos have little or no knowledge of Spanish. The Spanish language retains a large influence in local languages, with many words coming from or being derived from European Spanish and Mexican Spanish, due to the control of the islands by Spain through Mexico City. As of the 1990 Philippine census, only 2,660 people were reported to speak Spanish as a first language, with most speakers residing in Manila. Moreover, close to four million people speak Spanish as a second language to date.

Spanish has made significant contributions to various Philippine languages. Though the indigenous grammatical structure of the national language was retained, over 5000 Spanish loanwords have found their way into the vocabulary of Filipino. Since 2009 Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a fluent Spanish speaker and current President of the Philippines has ordered the re-establishment of Spanish in the education system. The Spanish language is to be taught in select public schools in the country starting next school year.


Among the countries and territories in Oceania, Spanish is also spoken in Easter Island, a territorial possession of Chile. The U.S. Territories of Guam and Northern Marianas, and the independent states of Palau, Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia all once had Spanish speakers, since the Marianas and the Caroline Islands were Spanish colonial possessions until the late 19th century, but Spanish has since been forgotten. It now only exists as an influence on the local native languages and is spoken by Hispanic American resident populations.


Latin America

Most Spanish speakers are in Latin America; of all countries with a majority of Spanish speakers, only Spain and Equatorial Guinea are outside the Americas. Mexico has the most native speakers of any country. Nationally, Spanish is the official language of Argentina, Bolivia (co-official with Quechua and Aymara), Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico , Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay (co-official with Guaraní), Peru (co-official with Quechua and, in some regions, Aymara), Uruguay, and Venezuela. Spanish is also the official language (co-official with English) in the U.S. commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Spanish has no official recognition in the former British colony of Belize; however, per the 2000 census, it is spoken by 43% of the population. Mainly, it is spoken by the descendants of Hispanics who have been in the region since the 17th century; however, English is the official language. Spain colonized Trinidad and Tobago first in 1498, introducing the Spanish language to the Carib people. Also the Cocoa Panyols, labourers from Venezuela, took their culture and language with them; they are accredited with the music of "Parang" ("Parranda") on the island. Because of Trinidad's location on the South American coast, the country is greatly influenced by its Spanish-speaking neighbours. A recent census shows that more than 1 500 inhabitants speak Spanish. The government launched the Spanish as a First Foreign Language (SAFFL) initiative in March 2005. Government regulations require Spanish to be taught, beginning in primary school, while 30% of public employees are to be linguistically competent within five years.

Spanish is important in Brazil because of its proximity to and increased trade with its Spanish-speaking neighbours, and because of its membership in the Mercosur trading bloc. In 2005, the National Congress of Brazil approved a bill, signed into law by the President, making Spanish language teaching mandatory in both public and private secondary schools in Brazil. In many border towns and villages (especially in the Uruguayan-Brazilian and Paraguayan-Brazilian border areas), a mixed language known as Portuñol is spoken.

United States

  • The Hispanophone World
    Countries where Spanish has official status
    U.S. state, Spanish no official status, spoken by 25% or more of population
    U.S. state, Spanish no official status, spoken by 10-20% or more of population
    U.S. state, Spanish no official status, spoken by 5-9.9% of population.

In the 2006 census, 44.3 million people of the U.S. population were Hispanic or Latino by origin; 34 million people, 12.2 %, of the population more than five years old speak Spanish at home. Spanish has a long history in the United States because many south-western states and Florida were part of Mexico and Spain, and it recently has been revitalized by Hispanic immigrants. Spanish is the most widely taught language in the country after English. Although the United States has no formally designated "official languages," Spanish is formally recognized at the state level in various states besides English; in the U.S. state of New Mexico for instance, 40% of the population speaks the language. It also has strong influence in metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, Miami, San Antonio, New York City, and in the last decade, the language has rapidly expanded in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Phoenix, Richmond, Washington, DC, and other major Sun-Belt cities. Spanish is the dominant spoken language in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory. With a total of 33,701,181 Spanish (Castilian) speakers, according to US Census Bureau, the U.S. has the world's second-largest Spanish-speaking population. Spanish ranks second, behind English, as the language spoken most widely at home.

Royal Spanish Academy

The Spanish Royal Academy was founded in 1713, largely with the purpose of preserving the "purity" of the language. The Academy published its first dictionary in six volumes over the period 1726–1739, and its first grammar in 1771, and it continues to produce new editions of both from time to time. Today, each of the Spanish-speaking countries has an analogous language academy, and an Association of Spanish Language Academies was created in 1951. The Real Academia Española (Royal Spanish Academy), together with the 21 other national ones, exercises a standardizing influence through its publication of dictionaries and widely respected grammar and style guides. Because of influence and for other socio-historical reasons, a standardized form of the language (Standard Spanish) is widely acknowledged for use in literature, academic contexts and the media.

Spanish dialects and varieties

  • Castillian dialects in Spain

Spanish dialects and varieties are the regional variants of the Spanish language, some of which are quite divergent from each other, especially in pronunciation and vocabulary, less so in grammar. While all Spanish dialects use the same written standard, all spoken varieties differ from the written variety, in different degrees. There is a gap between European Spanish (also called Peninsular Spanish) and the Spanish of the Americas (American Spanish), as well as many different dialect areas both within Spain and within Latin America. The term "dialect" does not apply to other regional languages in Spain such as Catalan, Galician, and Basque.

Prominent differences between dialects of Spanish include the distinction or lack thereof between /θ/ or /s/. The maintenance of the distinction, known in Spanish as distinción is characteristic of the Spanish spoken in northern and central Spain. Most dialects of Latin America and Southern Spain lack this distinction, and have merged the two sounds into /s/, a feature called seseo in Spanish dialectology. Dialects with seseo will pronounce the words casa ("house") and caza ("hunt") the same way, whereas dialects with distinción will pronounce them differently. In some parts of Andalusia, the two sounds have merged, but into the sounds [θ].

Another widespread dialectal difference concerns the existence, or lack thereof, of a distinction between the /ll/ and the /y/. In most dialects, the two sounds have merged together, though the realization of the resulting merged sound varies from dialect to dialect. This merger results in the words calló ("silenced") and cayó ("fell") being pronounced the same; they remain distinct in dialects that have not undergone this merger. Another feature associated with many varieties, like those in the southern half of Spain, the Caribbean and most of South America, is the weakening or loss of the consonant /s/ when syllable-final. This feature, called aspiración de las eses in Spanish, is associated in certain regions with other phonetic changes, like the opening of the previous vowel or the modification of the following consonant.

One particular feature of Mexican Spanish is the reduction or loss of the unstressed vowels, mainly when they are in contact with the sound /s/. It can be the case that the words: pesos, pesas, and peces are pronounced the same ['pesə̥s]. A prominent grammatical feature that varies between dialects is the use of the 2nd person forms. In most of Spain, the informal second person plural pronoun is vosotros, which is not used in Latin America, where the only second person plural pronoun is ustedes, which takes third person plural verb agreement. For the second person singular familiar pronoun, some dialects use tú, while others use vos (a phenomenon known as voseo), or use both tú and vos. There are significant differences in vocabulary between regional varieties of Spanish, particularly within the domains food products, everyday objects, and clothes, and many Latin American varieties show considerable influence from Native American languages.


In its earliest documented form, and up through approximately the 15th century, the language is customarily called Old Spanish. From approximately the 16th century on, it is called Modern Spanish. Spanish of the 16th and 17th centuries is sometimes called "classical" Spanish, referring to the literary accomplishments of that period. Castilian Spanish originated, after the decline of the Roman Empire, as a continuation of spoken Latin in the Cantabrian Mountains, in northern Spain, in the 8th and 9th centuries CE, according to most authorities. With the Reconquista, this northern dialect spread to the south, where it almost entirely replaced or absorbed the provincial dialects, at the same time as it borrowed massively from the vocabulary of Moorish Arabic and was influenced by Mozarabic (the Romance speech of Christians living in Moorish territory) and medieval Judeo-Spanish (Ladino). These languages all but vanished in the Iberian Peninsula by the late 16th century.

  • Don Quixote by Pablo Picasso

The prestige of Old Castile and its language was propagated partly by the exploits of Castilian heroes in the battles of the Reconquista — among them Fernán González and Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (El Cid) — and by the narrative poems about them that were recited in Castilian even outside the original territory of that dialect. The "first written Spanish" is traditionally considered to have appeared in the Glosas Emilianenses. These are "glosses" (translations of isolated words and phrases in a form more like Spanish than Latin) added between the lines of a manuscript that was written earlier in Latin. Estimates of their date vary from the late 10th to the early 11th century. The first steps toward standardization of written Castilian were taken in the 13th century by King Alfonso X of Castile, known as Alfonso el Sabio (Alfonso the Wise). He assembled scribes at his court and supervised their writing, in Castilian, of extensive works on history, astronomy, law, and other fields of knowledge.

Antonio de Nebrija wrote the first grammar of Spanish, Gramática de la lengua castellana, and presented it, in 1492, to Queen Isabella, who is said to have had an early appreciation of the usefulness of the language as a tool of hegemony, as if anticipating the empire that was about to be founded with the voyages of Columbus. Because Old Spanish resembles the modern written language to a relatively high degree, a student of Modern Spanish can learn to read medieval documents without much difficulty.

Beginning in the 16th century, Spanish colonization brought the language to the Americas (Mexico, Central America, and western and southern South America), where it is spoken today, as well as to several island groups in the Pacific where it is no longer spoken by any large numbers of people: the Philippines, Palau, the Marianas (including Guam), and what is today the Federated States of Micronesia. Use of the language in the Americas was continued by descendants of the Spaniards, both by Spanish criollos and by what had then become the mixed Spanish-Amerindian (mestizo) majority. After the wars of independence fought by these colonies in the 19th century, the new ruling elites extended their Spanish to the whole population to strengthen national unity, and the encouragement of all natives to become fluent in Spanish has had a certain amount of success, except in very isolated parts of the former Spanish colonies. In the late 19th century, the still-Spanish colonies of Cuba and Puerto Rico encouraged more immigrants from Spain, and similarly other Latin American countries such as Argentina, Uruguay, and to a lesser extent Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Venezuela, attracted waves of European immigration, Spanish and non-Spanish, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There, the countries' large (or sizable minority) population groups of second- and third-generation descendants adopted the Spanish language as part of their governments' official assimilation policies to include Europeans who were Catholics and agreed to take an oath of allegiance to their chosen nation's government.

When Puerto Rico became a possession of the United States as a consequence of the Spanish-American War, its population — almost entirely of Spanish and mixed Afro-Caribbean/Spanish (mulato and mestizo) descent — retained its inherited Spanish language as a mother tongue, in co-existence with the American-imposed English as co-official. In the 20th century, more than a million Puerto Ricans migrated to the mainland U.S.

A similar situation occurred in the American Southwest, including California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, where Spaniards, then criollos (Tejanos, Californios, etc.) followed by Chicanos (Mexican Americans) and later Mexican immigrants, kept the Spanish language alive before, during and after the American appropriation of those territories. Spanish continues to be used by millions of citizens and immigrants from Latin America to the United States (for example, many Cubans arrived in Miami, Florida, beginning in the 1950s and 1960s, and followed by other Latin American groups; the local majority is now Spanish-speaking). Spanish is now treated as the country's "second language," and over 5 percent of the U.S. population are Spanish-speaking, but most Latino/Hispanic Americans are bilingual. It is also spoken in parts of the United States that had not been part of the Spanish Empire, such as Spanish Harlem in New York City, at first by immigransts from Puerto Rico, and later by other Latin American immigrants who arrived there in the late 20th century. In 1492 Spain expelled it is Jewish population. Their Judeo-Spanish language called Ladino developed along its own lines and continues to be spoken by a dwindling number of speakers, mainly in Israel, Turkey, and Greece.

Language politics in Francoist Spain declared Spanish as the only official language in Spain, and to this day it is the most preferred language in government, business, public education, the workplace, cultural arts, and the media. But in the 1960s and 1970s, the Spanish parliament agreed to allow provinces to use, speak, and print official documents in three other languages: Catalan for Catalonia, Basque for the Basque provinces and Galician for Galicia. Since the early 1980s after Spain became a multi-party democracy, these regional and minority languages have rebounded in common usage as secondary languages, but Spanish remains the universal language of the Spanish people. When the United Nations organization was founded in 1945, Spanish was designated one of its five official languages (along with Chinese, English, French, and Russian; a sixth language, Arabic, was added in 1973). The list of Nobel laureates in Literature includes ten authors who wrote in Spanish.

Source: adapted from www.wikipedia.org