If someone speaks Spanish does that mean they’re Latino/a? Or Hispanic? Or both?

If this piques your curiosity, you’re in the right place. Today we’ll guide you through the differences between what it means to be Hispanic and what it means to be Latino/a. Let’s start with the simplest definition for each word:

What does it mean to be “Hispanic”?

“Hispanic” is the term used to refer to someone whose origins are from a country whose primary language is Spanish.

What does it mean to be “Latino” or “Latina”?

“Latino/a” is the term used for someone whose ancestry is from a Latin American country, regardless if it is a Spanish-speaking country or not.

Brazil and Argentina flags painted in a wall
Photo by Roberto Huczek on Unsplash

What’s the difference between being Latino and being Hispanic?

Both terms are associated with the origins of a person, but the main difference relies on the approach. “Hispanic” is related to Spanish-speaking countries (language-related), including Spain. “Latino” includes individuals from Latin American countries (geography-related), including diverse cultures, traditions, and languages.

This means that if someone has origins in Spain, you could say they are Hispanic, but not Latino. If someone comes from Brazil, that means they are Latinos, but not Hispanic. And if they come from countries in Latin America where Spanish is the primary language (like Argentina, Colombia, or Mexico) you can refer to them as both Hispanic and Latino.

In what countries do people speak Spanish? And why is it different depending on the country?

Let’s step back 800 years to get into the subject. 

Spanish has its roots in the Iberian Peninsula (what today is known as Portugal and Spain) and it’s one of the four languages that come from the Vulgar Latin (like French, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian). In the 13th century when the Kingdom of Castile reconquered Spain from Muslim rule, it started being considered a separate language from Latin.

That’s how Old Castile Spanish was established as the official language of United Spain. Later, Spain’s monarchs started exploring the world, spreading the Spanish language to different parts of the Americas and the Caribbean.

Since then, the Spanish Language has evolved in each country with some differences in vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar. 

21 Spanish-speaking countries and territories showed in a map
21 Spanish-speaking countries and territories. Source

Today, there are 20 countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela) and one non-independent territory (Puerto Rico) that has Spanish as the official language. 

Each one of the countries has a different way to speak Spanish, determined by their own history and culture. Get to know Common Spanish phrases to feel like a local in Spain.

What is Latin America? And what languages do people speak there?

Latin America, geographically, is a set of nations belonging to the regions of North America, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. Culturally and linguistically, the term “Latin America” describes the part of the Americas where Romance languages are the predominant languages.

South and Central America map
Photo by Leon Overweel on Unsplash

From North America, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America, Latin America includes 19 nations (Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin, Suriname, Uruguay, Venezuela), and one non-independent territory (Puerto Rico). Source: World Population Review.

Most of the Latin American countries and territories have Spanish as their primary language, but we can also find other Romance languages like Portuguese (Brazilian Portuguese) and French, and even other languages like English, Dutch, and Creole are present in some other countries. That explains how someone who is Latino could come from a place where the primary language is not Spanish.

To wrap up…

Although it can be complex to understand the differences, even for a Hispanic or Latino, there’s a reason why we have different terms for each case.

If you want to understand more about languages and cultures here are 5 hacks to learn a culture and 7 tips on how to juggle two or more Latin languages. An extra tip? Join a language group and get in touch with people from all over the world! Be a buddy to share your language, experiences, and culture, or a participant to absorbe new ones.

Author: Daniela Afonso

Daniela is a creative who loves exploring cultures and languages. She moved from Venezuela to Portugal and joined SPEAK as a Full-Stack Marketer. Passionate about movies and books, she loves the art of storytelling and finding unique and innovative ways to communicate ideas.

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