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What Language Do They Speak in Uruguay?

What Language Do They Speak in Uruguay

Key Takeaway

Fact TypeDetail
Official LanguageSpanish
Secondary LanguagesPortuguese (border areas), English (tourist areas)
Indigenous LanguagesFew, mostly extinct
Language of Education & MediaPredominantly Spanish
Popular Foreign Languages StudiedEnglish, Portuguese, and French


Uruguay, the second smallest nation in South America, is nestled between Brazil and Argentina. While it may be diminutive in size, it boasts a rich cultural tapestry that blends its native roots with European influences. Language, as in most countries, is a central component of its national identity.

The Dominance of Spanish

Spanish, specifically Rioplatense Spanish, is the de facto language spoken by the vast majority of Uruguayans. The version of Spanish spoken here shares many characteristics with Argentine Spanish, given their geographical proximity.

Table: Characteristics of Rioplatense Spanish

VoseoUsage of ‘vos’ instead of ‘tú’ for the second person singular
PronunciationDistinct pronunciation of ‘ll’ and ‘y’ sounds, similar to the English ‘sh’
LoanwordsInfluence from Italian, due to significant Italian immigration

Historical Context

Spain began its colonization of Uruguay in the early 16th century. Over time, Spanish settlers and missionaries spread their language, pushing out indigenous tongues. By the time Uruguay won its independence in 1825, Spanish was firmly entrenched as the language of governance, commerce, and daily life.

Indigenous Languages: A Glimpse into the Past

Uruguay once had a variety of indigenous languages. However, today, most of these languages are extinct or rarely spoken. The Charrúa people, for instance, were one of the predominant indigenous groups in pre-colonial Uruguay. Their language, Charrúan, has unfortunately been lost to time.

List of Indigenous Languages Once Spoken in Uruguay:

  • Charrúan
  • Güenoa
  • Chaná
  • Minuán

Though these languages have faded, the spirit of these indigenous groups remains a part of Uruguay’s cultural heritage.

Secondary Languages in Uruguay

While Spanish is the main language, there are pockets where other languages thrive:

  1. Portuguese: Along the border with Brazil, a hybrid language known as ‘Portuñol’ can sometimes be heard. It’s a mix of Portuguese and Spanish, reflecting the close ties between the two nations.
  2. English: In major cities and tourist areas, English is spoken by many, especially in the hospitality industry. The language is also taught in schools, reflecting its global importance.
  3. Italian, German, and French: Due to waves of immigration, there are communities where European languages hold sway. Italian, in particular, has influenced the local Spanish dialect.

Table: Percentage of Population Fluent in Secondary Languages

LanguageEstimated Percentage

The Role of Education

Language education is a significant aspect of Uruguay’s schooling system:

  • Spanish: As the official language, it’s the medium of instruction in schools.
  • English: English instruction starts early, and proficiency is growing among younger generations.
  • Portuguese: Given its geographical significance, Portuguese is also offered in many schools.


Uruguay, while predominantly Spanish-speaking, is a blend of cultures and languages. The influences of its indigenous past, colonial history, and waves of immigration have all contributed to the linguistic tapestry of the nation. For travelers, a command of Spanish will certainly help, but as the country continues to embrace globalization, the role of other languages, especially English, will undoubtedly grow. Whatever language you speak, Uruguay’s linguistic heritage offers a fascinating insight into its diverse and rich history.