Spanish (also known as Castilian) is the most widely spoken of the Romance languages, with an estimated 483 million native speakers in 2019, according to the Instituto Cervantes, and at least 75 million second-language speakers. It is an official language of 20 countries.
Spanish, as Castilian, originally emerged as one of many Ibero-Romance languages spoken in the northern half of Iberia. The branch in general is one of the more conservative descendents of Proto-Romance, both phonologically and in terms of inflection retained (especially verb conjugations). Due to the centuries of Moorish rule over the majority of the Iberian Peninsula, Spanish (like other languages in this sub-family) has a fair proportion of words borrowed from Arabic. Later on, Spanish also borrowed a large number of words from the indigenous languages of the parts of the Americas Spain colonised. A lot of English words that ultimately come from Arabic or an Amerindian language came to us via Spanish.
The main dialect groups of Spanish are:
- Peninsular Spanish
- Castilian Spanish
- Andalusian Spanish
- Mexican Spanish
- Central American Spanish
- Caribbean Spanish
- Andean Spanish and Pacific Spanish
- Colombian Spanish
- Peruvian Spanish
- Bolivian Spanish
- Chilean Spanish
- Rioplatense Spanish
There are other, smaller, dialects of course. In the US states of New Mexico and southern Colorado, there is New Mexican Spanish, which retains some conservative features lost elsewhere in the Hispanosphere. Historically, and perhaps extremely marginally to this day, there was also Philippine Spanish. Then there is Ladino, a.k.a. Judaeo-Spanish, which is the language of Sephardic Jews whose ancestors were expelled by Spain (or Portugal) in 1492, and retains a number of features from Medieval Spanish (or Portuguese). It’s usually considered a distinct language from Spanish, but remains mutually intelligible with it.
There are a number of other schisms within the Spanish-speaking world that don’t align so neatly with dialectical boundaries:
- Voseo, tuteo, ustedeo
- S-aspiration in Spanish (common in southern Spain, the Caribbean, the Cono Sur, and other parts of coastal South America)
- Yeísmo and lleísmo (and variations in the pronunciation of the ⟨ll⟩ digraph, whether merged or not with ⟨y⟩)
As for my own connection to Spanish: I started learning it when I started at university, and I persisted with it so long that I ended up making Spanish Studies my major (and did an honours year too! although by then I was more focused on Catalan). I’ve continued to work on my Spanish, incrementally, in the years since then, although I have to admit I’ve done a lot more reading than writing, speaking or listening. By the CEFR scale, I would estimate my reading ability to be C1 level (I can read novels, and back during my honours year I read a looooot of academic papers in Spanish), my writing to be B2, but my speaking and listening to be B1. I find it a lot easier to chat to people whose accents don’t aspirate ⟨s⟩ than people whose accents do 😛 I also feel I have a much larger passive vocabulary than active, so (if I understand the accent) I can understand more than I can say, at least fluently/off the cuff.