Five things to know about the Galician language

You may have visited Galicia, but what do you know about the Spanish region's unique language? Here are five things to know about Galician or Galego.

Santiago de Compostela
Santiago Cathedral in Galicia. Photo: javier alamo / Pixabay

It’s a language, not a dialect

Many may assume that Galician or Galego is just a dialect of Spanish, but in fact, like Catalan and Basque, Galician is in fact a separate language. In 1978 the language was officially recognised as one of the five official regional languages of Spain.

According to Galician’s Council of Culture, before it was officially recongised, Castilian Spanish was the dominant language, socially and culturally, while Galician was marginalised. However, today it is taught in schools, there are media outlets written in Galician and it is more integrated into the society.  

It’s more closely associated with Portuguese than it is with Spanish

Both Galician and Portuguese are said to have derived from the same Romance language spoken around the 9th century called Galician-Portuguese, however around the 14th century these languages began to diverge slightly as borders were established. 

“Despite a divergent historical evolution since the Middle Ages, today Galician and Portuguese are mutually understandable almost effortlessly,” says the Galician Council of Culture. Today, Galician and Portuguese still have similar grammar and vocabulary, however there are differences in the way they sound and in the spelling of the words. 

READ ALSO: Ten unique Basque words you need to learn right now

It’s spoken by around 2.8 million people

According to the Galician government, Galego is spoken by 2.8 million people. It is spoken mostly in Galicia, but there are also Galician speakers in Asturias, León and Zamora, as well as three small places in Extremadura. 

Galician’s Council of Culture also says that it is spoken by immigrant communities in South America, particularly in Argentina and Uruguay; in Europe mostly in Germany, Switzerland and France. It also states that the majority of the inhabitants of Galicia speak Galician as their first language and use it on a daily basis. 

Galician has its own public holiday

Galician even has its own public holiday, known as Galician Literature Day or El Día de las Letras Galegas. It has been celebrated every May 17th since 1963 by the Royal Galician Academy as a tribute to writers of Galician literature.

Each year, the festival is dedicated to a different Galician literary figure, in 2021 it was the poet Xela Arias and this year, it will be dedicated to the poet Florencio Delgado Gurriarán, who was exiled to Mexico. 

READ ALSO: Five reasons why Galicia is Spain’s version of Ireland

Galician has over 70 words to describe rain

It is said that Arabic has many different words for ‘camel’ and according to language experts Galician has around 70 words to describe rain. It’s no wonder, as Galicia is known as the wettest region in Spain. 

The language has different words depending on whether the rain is light, heavy, if there are lots of clouds or if it’s sunny and raining at the same time. For example, ‘Battuere‘ is used when the rain is intense and ‘Torbón‘ describes rain accompanied by thunder and lightning. While ‘Sarabiada‘ means the rain that falls on ice and snow. 

Useful words and phrases in Galician: 

Next time you’re in Galicia, why not try speaking some Galician for yourself? Here are a few useful words and phrases to get you started. 

Bos días – Good morning 

¿Como te chamas? – What’s your name?

¿Falas galego? – Do you speak Galician?

Saúde! – Cheers 

Bo proveito! – Bon appetit or Enjoy your meal 

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¡Ojo! 14 very useful Spanish expressions with the word eye

They say the eyes never lie, and when it comes to the use of ‘ojo’ (eye) in Spanish there are plenty of everyday expressions which will help you become a true native speaker.

¡Ojo! 14 very useful Spanish expressions with the word eye

¡Ojo!: When Spaniards want to say ‘watch out!’ or ‘be careful!’, they say ¡ojo!

There’s also the idiom andarse con ojo, which implies watching your back or treading carefully. And to emphasise this even further, you can say andarse con cien ojos/mil ojos, to walk with 100 eyes or 1,000 eyes!

¡Ojo! El suelo está mojado. 

Watch out! The floor is wet.

Ándate con ojo con Jaime porque tiene fama de traidor. 

Watch your back with Jaime because he’s got a reputation for being a backstabber.

No pegar ojo: To not sleep a wink, used when you’ve been unable to sleep.

Me he pasado toda la noche en vela, no he pegado ojo. 

I’ve been up all night, I didn’t sleep a wink.

Costar un ojo de la cara: The same as saying in English ‘to cost an arm and a leg’, in the sense that something is very expensive or costly.  You can also use valer instead of costar, both mean ‘to cost’.

Pagarle los estudios a mi hijo me ha costado un ojo de la cara. 

Paying for my son’s studies has cost me an arm and a leg.

Mirar por el rabillo del ojo: To look sideways or out of the corner of your eye. 

No se inmutó pero no dejaba de mirarle por el rabillo del ojo.

He didn’t bat an eyelid but he wouldn’t stop looking at him out of the corner of her eye.

Tener ojo de lince: If you’ve got a very keen and observant eye, in English you say you have an eagle eye, but in Spanish you’d say you have a lynx eye. 

María tiene ojo de lince, no se le escapa ninguna. 

María has got a real eagle eye, she doesn’t miss a thing.

En un abrir y cerrar de ojos: Literally meaning in the time it takes to open or close your eyes, this expression is not too dissimilar to its English equivalent – in the blink of an eye – when something happens very quickly. 

En un abrir y cerrar de ojos el ladrón había robado las joyas.

In the blink of an eye the thief had stolen the jewels. 

Mirar con buenos ojos: To look upon someone or something favourably, to have a soft spot for something/someone or to have a positive outlook on something. 

El jefe te mira con buenos ojos aunque llegues tarde al trabajo.

The boss has a soft spot for you even if you’re late for work.

Ser el ojito derecho: If you’re someone’s ‘little right eye’, it means you’re the teacher’s pet. It doesn’t always have to apply to being a teacher’s favourite pupil as it can be used when referring to someone else’s preferred person. There’s also the expression la niña de sus ojos (the apple of somebody’s eye).

Margarita es el ojito derecho de la profe. 

Margarita is the teacher’s pet. 

A ojo: If you do something a ojo, it means you do it blindly or by eye or by guesswork, without knowing exactly.

Estoy calculando cuánta gente hay en la sala a ojo. 

I’m making a rough guess of how many people there are in the room.

Echarle un ojo a: ‘To throw an eye’ in Spanish means to check something out, to have a look at, to look over. It can also mean to keep an eye on or watch over someone or something.

Échale un ojo a este cuadro que he pintado. 

Have a look at this painting I’ve painted. 

Mal de ojo: Evil eye.

La gitana le echó un mal de ojo por no comprarle el romero. 

The gipsy woman cast an evil eye on her for not buying her rosemary. 

No tener ojos en la cara: ‘To not have eyes on one’s face’ actually means to not see something that’s obvious or to not pay attention or care to something. 

¿Cómo qué se ha perdido el niño? ¿Es que no tienes ojos en la cara?

What do you mean the boy is lost? Did you fall asleep at the wheel?

No quitar ojo: To stare intently at something or someone without fail. If it’s with desire, there’s also the expression comerse con los ojos a algo/alguien, to eat something or someone with the eyes.

La rubia no te quita ojo, chaval. 

The blonde girl won’t stop looking at you, man.