There are two names for the language we are learning, ‘espanol', and ‘castellano', but what is the difference between them? Why use one and not the other? Should we be using both? Does everyone use both words?
The answers to these questions lie to a certain extent in the history of Spain. The two words, of course come from the respective areas where they were/are spoken: Castile and Spain. An interesting fact is that Castile as an entity came into being hundreds of years before Spain, so the language at that time was always referred to as Castilian.
Castile became the dominant force in the region at the time of the Reconquest of Spain from the Moors, and thus their language became the dominant one. It wasn't until at least the end of the 15th century that the term ‘España’ was used (the actual date is disputed), and so it was after this time that the word ‘español’ first began to be heard. However, the Reconquest didn't eliminate the other languages in the peninsula, and this gives us the clue as to when the word ‘castellano’ is used.
The other languages in the Peninsula, Basque, Valencian, Catalan and Gallego are still spoken by many people today, as we have seen, and the word ‘castellano’ is mostly used by Spanish people to distinguish it from these other languages. I used to live in the Basque Country, and they were very insistent that the language not be called ‘espanol’. Using this word, they felt, gave the language an importance that they didn't agree it had. Other regionalists would almost certainly agree with this sentiment.
In Latin-America, which word is used depends on which country you are in. ‘Espanol’ is preferred in, amongst others, Mexico and Cuba, and ‘castellano’ is preferred in, amongst others, Argentina, Peru and Uruguay. Some countries (Bolivia and Chile, for example) routinely use both.
An interesting side note to this discussion is that in Franco's time, people heard speaking the other languages in Spain were often encouraged to ‘hablar cristiano’ - ‘speak Christian', a play on words that implied that God was on Franco's side.
Matthew Brock -
Professional language teacher and online teacher for the video lessons at