First language

The term ‘first language’ refers to the language learned at home in childhood. In Galicia, almost half the population did so in Galician and less than a third in Spanish. Even so, some differences are found as regards the speakers’ age and the place where they live, with more Galician speakers among the elderly and living in rural areas. In addition, in recent years a decline has been observed in the number of people whose first language is Galician, and an increase in the number of those for whom it is Spanish .

Less than half the population say they first learned to speak in Galician, almost a third in Spanish, and a quarter of the population is bilingual.

The lower people’s age, the less they first learned Galician and the more they learned Spanish as their first language.

In the past fifteen years, the bilingual population has increased.


1. Galician: the first language of the Galician population

The first language of the Galician population is predominantly Galician, according to the Galician Statistics Institute, IGE. As shown in the graph below, 42.2% of them learned to speak this language in childhood, while 23.7% learned both Galician and Spanish.

The geographical area where people live is relevant in terms of learning Galician as their first language. In this vein, most Galician native speakers are mainly found in inland areas, particularly in the provinces of Lugo (over 50%) and Ourense.

The map below shows the percentage of individuals according to the language used by their parents to talk to them in their childhood: either Galician only, or mainly Galician rather than Spanish. The area of Galicia with the highest proportion of people with Galician as their first language is Costa da Morte (95%), whereas Vigo has the lowest share (37.2%). As for metropolitan areas, Santiago de Compostela shows the highest percentage of Galician speakers (65%).

2. First language by age

On analysing the data corresponding to the first language of the Galician population by age, differences can be found between generations.

This graph clearly shows that the highest rate of Galician speakers is among the elderly population. One can also see that as age decreases, the percentage of native Galician speakers also drops, while the proportion of Spanish and bilingual speakers increases. It can be concluded, therefore, that there are increasingly fewer people whose first language is Galician, whereas the percentage of native Spanish or bilingual speakers is rising.

3. Rural vs urban situation and first language

As far as the geographical areas are concerned, it is in rural locations of fewer than 10,000 inhabitants where Galician native speakers are usually found, with a share of 66.8% compared to 12.2% Spanish native speakers. In medium-sized towns of between 10,000 and 50,000 inhabitants, most people are native Galician speakers, but with a percentage 20% lower than in rural areas. In towns of 20,000 to 50,000 inhabitants, the proportion of Spanish native speakers rises to 32.4%, and in those of 10,000 to 20,000 inhabitants, the number of Spanish and bilingual speakers is similar. Finally, urban areas with more than 50,000 inhabitants account for more than half of native Spanish speakers.

As regards the largest cities in Galicia, some differences can be seen between them. Lugo has the highest proportion of native monolingual Galician speakers (38.7%), followed by Santiago de Compostela (34.8%). Conversely, Ferrol has the lowest percentage of native Galician speakers (13.4%) followed by Vigo (13.8%). As for people who learned to speak only in Spanish, Vigo is the city with the highest percentage (61.8%) followed by Ferrol (59.7%), whereas in Santiago de Compostela the number of speakers who learned to speak in Galician almost equals those who learned in Spanish.

4. First language evolution

The graph below shows the evolution of the first language of the Galician population, according to the Galician Statistics Institute (IGE).

Between 2003 and 2018, people whose first language is Galician fell by almost ten per cent, despite still being the majority. However, those who said they are native bilingual speakers increased by almost the same proportion, so that this group has proportionally grown the most. The percentage of Spanish native speakers has increased very slightly, indicating some stability in the loss of speakers of Galician as a first language. Overall, it can be stated that the number of native Galician speakers fell over the fifteen years analysed.