Facts About Colombia for Spanish Students

Country Features Diversity, Improving Safety Conditions

The Republic of Colombia is a geographically and ethnically diverse country in northwestern South America. It was named after Christopher Columbus.

Linguistic highlights

Spanish, known in Colombia as castellano, is spoken by nearly the entire population and is the only national official language. However, numerous indigenous languages are granted official status locally. The most significant of then is Wayuu, an Amerindian language used mostly in northeastern Colombia and neighboring Venezuela. It is spoken by more than 100,000 Colombians. (Source: Ethnologue Database)

Vital statistics

Catedral Primada in Bogotá, Colombia
Catedral Primada in Bogotá, Colombia. Photo copyright by Pedro Szekely and published under terms of Creative Commons license.

Colombia has a population of almost 47 million as of 2013 with a low growth rate of just over 1 percent and about three-fourths living in urban areas. Most people, about 58 percent, are of mixed European and indigenous ancestry. About 20 percent are white, 14 percent mulatto, 4 percent black, 3 percent mixed black-Amerindian and 1 percent Amerindian. About 90 percent of Colombians are Roman Catholic.

Spanish grammar in Colombia

Probably the biggest difference from standard Latin American Spanish is that it is common, especially in Bogotá, the capital and largest city, for close friends and family members to address each other as usted rather than , the former being considered formal nearly everywhere else in the Spanish-speaking world. In parts of Colombia, the personal pronoun vos is sometimes used among close friends. The diminutive suffix -ico also is used often.

Spanish pronunciation in Colombia

Bogotá usually is viewed as the area of Colombia where the Spanish is easiest for foreigners to understand, as it has close to what is considered standard Latin American pronunciation. The main regional variation is that coastal areas are dominated by yeísmo, where the y and the ll are pronounced the same. In Bogotá and the highlands, where lleísmo dominates, the ll has a more fricative sound than the y, something like the "s" in "measure."

Studying Spanish

Partly because Colombia has not been a major tourist destination (it once had a reputation for drug-related violence, although that has become less of an issue in recent years), there isn't an abundance of Spanish-language immersion schools, perhaps fewer than a dozen reputable ones, in the country. Most of them are in Bogotá and environs, although there are some in Medellín (the country's second largest city) and coastal Cartagena. Costs generally run from $200 to $300 U.S. per week for tuition. The U.S. State Department reported in 2013 that the safety situation in Colombia has improved considerably in recent years, although travelers should become aware of political conditions.


Map of Colombia
Map of Colombia. CIA Factbook

Colombia is bordered by Panama, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Its 1.1 million square kilometers make it nearly twice the size of Texas. Its topography includes 3,200 kilometers of coastline, Andes mountains as high as 5,775 meters, Amazon jungle, Caribbean islands, and lowland plains known as llanos.


Colombia's modern history began with the arrival of Spanish explorers in 1499, and the Spanish began settling the region in the early 16th century. By the early 1700s, Bogotá became one of the leading centers of Spanish rule. Colombia as a separate country, originally called New Granada, was formed in 1830. Although Colombia usually has been ruled by civilian governments, its history has been marked by violent internal conflict. Beginning in the 1980s, the violence was intensified by a growing illegal drug trade. As of 2013, large areas of the country are under guerrilla influence, although peace talks continue between the government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia.


Colombia has embraced free trade to bolster its economy, but its unemployment rate remains above 10 percent as of 2013. About a third of its residents live in poverty. Oil and coal are the biggest exports.


Flag of Colombia
Flag of Colombia.

The island department (like a province) of San Andrés y Providencia is closer to Nicaragua than to the Colombian mainland. English is widely spoken there.