Peru for Spanish Students

History, language, statistics, and triva about this South American country

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Linguistic Highlights

Llama at Machu Picchu, Peru

 NeilsPhotography; via Creative Commons

Peru is a South American country known best for being the center of the Incan Empire until the 16th century. It is a popular destination for tourists and students learning Spanish.

Spanish is the most common language of Peru, spoken as a first language by 84 percent of the people, and is the language of mass media and nearly all written communications. Quechua, officially recognized, is the most common indigenous language, spoken by around 13 percent, especially in parts of the Andes. As recently as the 1950s, Quechua was dominant in rural areas and used by as much as half the population, but urbanization and Quechua's lack of a widely understood written language have caused its usage to shrink considerably. Another indigenous language, Aymara, is also official and is spoken primarily in the southern region. Dozens of other indigenous languages are also used by tiny segments of the population, and around 100,000 people speak Chinese as a first language. English is frequently used in the tourism industry.

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Brief History of Peru

palacio gobierno
Hemisphere's First City Was in What Is Now Peru Palacio de Gobierno del Perú. (Peru's Government Palace.).

Dennis Jarvis; via Creative Commons.

The area we know as Peru has been populated since the arrival of nomads who came to the Americas via the Bering Strait some 11,000 years ago. About 5,000 years ago, the city of Caral, in the Supe Valley north of modern-day Lima, became the first center of civilization in the Western Hemisphere. (Much of the site remains intact and can be visited, although it has not become a major tourist attraction.) Later, the Incas developed the largest empire in the Americas; by the 1500s, the empire, with Cusco as its capital, stretched from coastal Colombia to Chile, encompassing almost 1 million square kilometers including the western half of modern-day Peru and portions of Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina.

Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1526. They first captured Cusco in 1533, although active resistance against the Spaniards continued until 1572.

Military efforts toward independence began in 1811. José de San Martín declared independence for Peru in 1821, although Spain didn't formally recognize the country's independence until 1879.

Since then, Peru has shifted several times between military and democratic rule. Peru now seems to be firmly established as a democracy, although it struggles with a weak economy and a low-level guerrilla insurgency.

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Spanish in Peru

Map of Peru
Pronunciation Varies With Region Map of Peru. CIA Factbook

Spanish pronunciation varies considerably in Peru. Coastal Spanish, the most common variety, is considered to be standard Peruvian Spanish and usually the easiest for outsiders to understand. Its pronunciation is similar to what's considered standard Latin American Spanish. In the Andes, it is common for speakers to pronounce consonants more strongly than elsewhere but to distinguish little between the e and o or between the i and u. The Spanish of the Amazon region is sometimes considered a separate dialect. It has some variations in word order from standard Spanish, makes heavy use of indigenous words and often pronounces the j as f .

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Studying Spanish in Peru

musicians in Lima
Most Schools Found in Lima, Cusco Músicos en Lima, Perú. (Musicians in Lima, Peru.).

M M; via Creative Commons.

Peru has an abundance of immersion language schools with Lima and the Cusco area near Machu Picchu, a frequently visited Incan archaeological site, being the most popular destinations. Schools can also be found throughout the country in cities such as Arequipa, Iguitos, Trujillo and Chiclayo. Schools in Lima tend to be more expensive than elsewhere. Costs begin at around $100 U.S. per week for group instruction only; packages that include classroom instruction, room and board begin at around $350 U.S. per week, although it is possible to spend considerably more.

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Vital Statistics

Peru's flag
Peru's flag.

Public domain

Peru has a population of 30.2 million with a median age of 27 years. About 78 percent live in urban areas. The poverty rate is about 30 percent and rises to more than half in rural areas.

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Trivia About Peru

6 Words That Came From Quechua Una vicuña. (A vicuña.).

Geri; via Creative Commons.

Spanish words that eventually were imported into English and originally came from Quechua include coca, guano (bird excrement), llama, puma (a type of cat), quinoa (a type of herb originating in the Andes) and vicuña (a relative of the llama).

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Erichsen, Gerald. "Peru for Spanish Students." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Erichsen, Gerald. (2020, August 28). Peru for Spanish Students. Retrieved from Erichsen, Gerald. "Peru for Spanish Students." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 1, 2023).