How Common Is Spoken Spanish In France? (Revealed)


Spanish is a major language around the world and spoken in many countries by travelers, immigrants, and those learning other languages. In France there is a special connection through history and the fact that they are neighbors with Spain. So, how common is spoken Spanish in France?

Spanish is not widely spoken in France though there is some presence in the border areas with Spain. Spanish is spoken by 13% of the population of France which mirrors the proportional levels in the United States. It is usually spoken by native Spanish speakers rather than language learners.

Here we will dive into the specifics of the Spanish language in France, who speaks it, and where it can be found. Similarities can be found in many countries around the world with neighboring populations speaking different languages. Let’s see how the language landscape in France is affected by their neighbor, Spain.

How Widely Spoken Is Spanish In France?

Spanish is spoken as an official language in France’s neighbor to the south. Spain has several regional dialects and languages, but its main and official method of communication is Spanish. Does this affect France to any sizable degree.

Spanish is not commonly spoken in France and even trails the underused English language in terms of numbers of people with enough proficiency to use it in conversation. There are small areas in larger cities and universities near the French Spanish border that it may be found.

If this is the case, what do the actual numbers look like and what are the chances of finding a Spanish speaker in France? If you can find one, will the Spanish they speak be good enough to use? I will give you a rundown of what the environment looks like.

What Percentage Of The French Population Speaks Spanish?

There is a huge difference in France between those able to speak a language and those that will actually do it. Add this to the low numbers of bilingual residents in France and you get an idea of how difficult it would be to have conversations, do business, or get an education in Spanish while in France.

Barely over one tenth of the population of France has any skill in the Spanish language. In terms of percentages, Spanish is spoken by a mere 13% of the French population. This means that only about one in every nine speak Spanish on some level that you meet in France.

In the following graph you can see the huge disparity between the different languages. Keep in mind this is also only measuring the presence of the language and not the proficiency levels. There needs to be a very high percentage of a spoken language before a random encounter is likely to be with someone with a high level of ability in a language.

When this is compared with the numbers in the United States it becomes clear that the same levels of Spanish happen in the same way in the U.S.

The population of the United states in 2016 was 323.1 million. The number of native Spanish speakers in the same year was recorded by the U.S. census as 43.2 million.

How does this compare to Spanish in France? Well, using these numbers based on citizens in the U.S. 13.4% of residents spoke Spanish natively. This is remarkably similar to the levels in France.

Something similar happens along borders of countries around the world when their neighbors natively speak other languages.

Even in France you see German being spoken by 8% of the population. This happens generally near the border with Germany. This is a known phenomenon around the city of Strasbourg located directly on the border between France and Germany.

If you would like to learn more about how common languages are in different countries, I recommend my other articles…

How Many Speak Spanish In France?

We looked at the percentage of Spanish speakers in France and from that data can see that Spanish is not common in France. Yet, there is some presence especially in Southern France near the border with Spain. So, how many people speak Spanish in Spain?

According to current estimates France’s population is 67.413 million people. With the percentage of the population speaking Spanish staying the same, the number of Spanish speakers in France is 8.76 million. This number encompasses all levels of Spanish from the learner to native speaker.

With this number of speakers of a language, it seems that you would be able to find Spanish speakers in France. The fact is you can, it will just be in some specific areas more than others.

Do They Speak Spanish In France?

As you can see, there is a Spanish presence in France, but who is it that speaks it? Is it a popular second or other language for citizens or is it mainly immigrant populations crossing their southern border that bring the language with them?

Spanish is spoken mainly by native speakers of the language in France. Immigrants and their families bring the language with them across the border as they settle in mainly the French southern regions. There are some that learn it, but for the most part language learning in France is low.

If this is the case how much of the population learns languages versus those that bring the languages with them as they migrate? Let’s look at each scenerio.

Do French People Speak Spanish?

For the most part language learning in France is low compared to other countries with as high of a standard of living. The French are appreciative of their culture and language. For reasons of preserving them and a lack of motivation along other fronts, they simply don’t learn languages in general.

Spanish is not widely spoken by French natives. France is not known as a particularly bilingual nation. The motivation to learn Spanish or any other language by the native population is low at best. They see the French language and its preservation as integral to their culture’s survival.

In an article produced by the Paris office of Education First, Adeline Prevost speaks to this sentiment. The French people look at their language and culture as integral to their national identity and see its protection and preeminence as necessary for the survival of their way of life.

Immigrants From Spain Make Up The Majority Of Spanish Speakers

Most of the Spanish that is spoken in France doesn’t come from those that learned the language in a classroom or educational setting. It normally comes from those who spoke it in their homes from childhood.

Spanish in France is most widely spoken among native Spanish speaking families and in towns and cities on the border with Spain. These Spanish speaking populations will most likely be found in southern and western France due to immigration patterns.

Like in the United States, around 13% of the population speaks Spanish due to migration from native speakers crossing the nation’s southern border. The trend also holds that by the second to third generation, Spanish language skills become non-existent and the official and dominant language is used.

Can You Get By With Only Spanish In France?

Many tourists, exchange students, or business travelers may have this question due to limited stays or time to prepare. This is a legitimate concern for many that speak Spanish natively or know it as their only other language besides their native tongue.

Spanish is not common enough in the French population to be able to comfortably live in France without learning basic French. Spanish is only usable in France a little over 10% of the time. French will be a necessity if more than a vacation or short business trip is in the plans.

For shorter trips Spanish could be an aid with some beginner level French to supplement it. For longer business ventures, student exchanges, or expatriate situations, learning French is not only respectful to natives, but important for day to day activities.

Where In France Is The Most Spanish Spoken?

Map of France written in French.

Much of the Spanish that you find in France will be centered in areas of tourism, migration, and university populations. This is true of many countries with foreign language presence.

Here we will look at some of the major areas where Spanish could be found in France.

  • Paris – population 2,138,551

As the most visited city in the world, Paris is a hub of tourism and international trade. Because of this, Spanish will have more of a footprint here than in many other cities in the country. The most concentrated areas will be around tourist spots and near major university campuses.

The city is home to one of the original universities and one of the most influential in history. The University of Paris is home to many foreign students and many from Spanish speaking countries.

It also has majors, minors, and classes teaching the Spanish language. Finding speakers of the language has a higher percentage here than in many other parts of the country due to city and campus populations.

  • Marseille – population 794,811

This city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea is France’s second largest city and also its oldest. Though it may not have been the most desired travel destination in the past, today it is an up and coming tourist hotspot.

Being on the coast near Spain and within a half days travel by car, it is no wonder that Spanish speakers can be found here more than other places in France.

With the Aix-Marseille University in the area hosting over 80,000 students, it is little wonder that Spanish is a bit easier to find in the city. With so many students and a portion coming from Spanish speaking countries, you will have a better time finding Spanish here than more northern and smaller cities.

  • Toulouse – population 433,055

The city known for its rose or pink colored spires and buildings is also known for industry and higher education. The old town and historic buildings are a draw for tourism just as aeronautical engineering and plane construction bring in many professionals.

The city is host to the largest university system outside of Paris. The University of Toulouse has many successors and over 100,000 students attend one of its many campuses. Spanish is more prominent in larger cities with tourism and around university campuses. This city has ample offerings in both categories.

  • Montpellier – population 248,252 –

Now moving to another city in the southern part of France, just over a two hour drive to the Spanish border is a seaside town that holds not only tourist destinations for the world, but especially neighboring Spain. This ancient seaside town was once a village of merchants.

Today it host three major universities with over 80,000 students. This makes up one third of the cities total population. It is home to University of Montpellier and the world’s oldest medical school.

All of this creates an environment only a couple hours from the border with Spain ripe for Spanish speakers. Students, tourists, and medical professionals alike may find it a bit easier to use their Spanish here.

  • Bordeaux – population 231,844

Though Bordeaux may be more of a British tourist destination, its proximity to Spain also makes it a Spanish one as well. It is an amazing city of art and history and also a famous UNESCO World Heritage Site for its connected port city. There are many things the city is known for and many draws for business and travel.

It is home to the University of Bordeaux with its 48,000 students as well as two other major universities. This lends the area to hosting more Spanish speakers than other smaller and less academically focused cities and towns.

Do Street Signs In France Have Spanish On Them?

As with most countries in Europe and around the world, street signs in France will appear mostly in two forms.

  1. There will be symbols and pictures representing actions or restrictions without text at all.
  2. There will be clarifications or additional information in French.

Rarely will there be a street sign or any sign for that matter that has Spanish included.

Firstly, there is no need for language on most signs. Internationally, it has become commonplace to use symbols and pictographs to display the intended meaning. Many road signs have no textual language on them at all.

Second, when there is a need for clarification it will be in the official French language. These are usually additional details for citizens and rarely for tourists. Even in the border areas, most signs with text will be in French. There are of course a few exceptions, but in general this is the practice.

Is There Spoken Spanish In The French Workplace?

The professional environment in France is designed around the countries official language. Though Spanish has some presence in some areas or sectors of business, it will be a small minority and relatively hard to find.

Spanish is not common in the French workplace. It may have more of a presence in the border area between Spain and France. This may also be true near universities, tourist areas, or in firms dealing in international business. Yet, for the most part French is the language of business in France.

For native Spanish speakers looking to work in France, it will more than likely be necessary to have a professional working knowledge of French to find a position. There are always exceptions to rules, but in general it will be hard to live and work in France only speaking Spanish.

Is There Spanish In Movies And Television In France?

With the popularity especially of American made movies and television series, the question may arise concerning the language they will be shown in on French screens. There generally are three options that a country as a general rule will follow when introducing foreign entertainment to their viewing audiences.

France chooses to dub all media into French whether on television or theater screens. In an effort to promote the French language and serve a population not particularly keen on language learning, French is the language of choice for entertainment. Spanish is rarely heard in any French media.

Some countries like Germany will offer options both dubbed into the official native language and shown in the original foreign language. This becomes more hit and miss in smaller areas, but in larger cities like Berlin and Munich, we personally would watch films in English in a theatre when the theatre beside us would be playing the same movie dubbed into German.

A third option is to treat movies and shows the way Croatia handles them. They leave the original language as it is and simply ads subtitles to them. This is usually in a country that feels less of a threat to their own language or culture by imported entertainment.

Can French Speakers Understand Spanish?

With both Spanish and French coming from the same language tree, one might wonder whether or not a native from France can understand the Spanish of a Spaniard. So, can French speakers understand Spanish?

Both Spanish and French both derived from Latin. They are not mutually intelligible when spoken. Yet, in writing they are 40%-50% understandable by speakers of each. As well, 75% of their vocabularies are true or partial cognates even sharing the same gender patterns.

What this tells us is that though they may not be able to pick up on the similarities in the speed at which a conversation travels, it may be a slightly different story when reading and writing. In a face to face encounter French speakers will not usually understand what a Spanish speaker is saying.

Yet, if they were to be pen pals and both wrote in their own native language, about half of what was written could be discerned even without translation. This still doesn’t make it a viable option in educational or business environments, but it does speak to the ease of one group learning the language of the other.

The Final Talking Point On Commonly Spoken Spanish In France…

We now understand that Spanish though spoken in France in places, is not common and the levels of proficiency by native French citizens are more than likely to be low. It is likely that in some areas you will find no Spanish speakers at all. In areas near larger cities and near the boarder with Spain there could be some presence.

With the French peoples’ reluctance to study other languages across the board, it is not surprising to find such a low level of Spanish among their population.

This means that those wishing to use Spanish in their living or traveling in France will have a hard time and some basic, usable French will be required.

If you would like to learn more about languages and how they are used around the world, I recommend my other articles…

Other References

City population estimates from geonames.org

France national population estimates from insee.fr

Jackie Booe

Jackie Booe is a licensed teacher for elementary through high school in 3 states. She is a former adjunct professor at the undergraduate level and certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners. She was a mentor for many education interns, has taught and coordinated professional development for teachers and educators, and professionally tutored in a multitude of subjects.

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