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Venezuela is a geographically diverse South American country in the southern Caribbean. It has long been known for its oil production and more recently for an economic and political crisis that has forced millions to flee.
Spanish, known in Venezuela as castellano, is the only national language and is almost universally spoken, often with Caribbean influences. Dozens of indigenous languages are used, although most of them by only a few thousand people. The most significant of them is Wayuu, spoken in total by around 200,000 people, most of them in neighboring Colombia. Indigenous languages are especially common in the southern part of the country near the Brazilian and Colombian borders. Chinese is spoken by about 400,000 immigrants and Portuguese by about 250,000. (Source: Ethnologue database.) English and Italian are widely taught in schools. English has significant use in tourism and business development.
Vital StatisticsFlag of Venezuela.
Venezuela has a population of 31.7 million as of mid-2018 with a median age of 28.7 years and a growth rate of 1.2 percent. The vast majority of people, about 93 percent, live in urban areas, the largest of them being the capital Caracas with just over 3 million people. The second-largest urban center is Maracaibo with 2.2 million. The literacy rate is around 95 percent. About 96 percent of the population is at least nominally Roman Catholic.
The Spanish of Venezuela is similar to that of much of Central America and the Caribbean and continues to show influence from the Canary Islands of Spain. As in a few other countries such as Costa Rica, the diminutive suffix -ico often replaces -ito, so that, for example, a pet cat might be called a gatico. In some western parts of the country, vos is used for the familiar second person in preference to tú.
Spanish Pronunciation in Colombia
Speech is often characterized by frequent elimination of the s sound as well as of the d sound between vowels. Thus usted often ends up sounding like uted and hablado can end up sounding like hablao. It is also common to shorten words, such as using pa for para.
Among the frequently used words more or less peculiar to Venezuela is vaina, which has a broad range of meanings. As an adjective it often carries a negative connotation, and as a noun it can simply mean "thing." Vale is a frequent filler word. Venezuelan speech also is peppered with words imported form French, Italian, and American English. One of the few distinctive Venezuelan words that has spread to other Latin American countries is chévere, a rough equivalent of the colloquial "cool" or "awesome."
Studying Spanish in Venezuela
Even before the current economic crisis, Venezuela was not a major destination for Spanish instruction, although schools were located in Caracas, Mérida, and the touristic Margarita Island. However, as of 2019, there do not appear to be any language schools in the country with websites that are being updated, and it is likely that the economic situation has curtailed if not prevented their operation.
GeographyWith one drop of 807 meters (2,648 feet), Salto Ángel (Angel Falls) in Venezuela is the world's tallest waterfall.
Francisco Becerro / Creative Commons.
Venezuela is bordered by Colombia on the west, Brazil on the South, Guyana on the east and the Caribbean Sea on the north. It has an area of about 912,000 square kilometers, slightly more than twice the size of California. Its coastline totals 2,800 square miles. The elevation ranges from sea level to just over 5,000 meters (16,400 feet). The climate is tropical, although it's cooler in the mountains.
Oil was discovered in the Venezuela in the early 20th century and became the most significant sector of the economy. By the early 2010s, oil accounted for about about 95 percent of the country' export earnings and about 12 percent of its gross domestic product. However, oil prices began falling in 2014 and a combination of political unrest, corruption, economic sanctions, and general economic stagnation led to a economic collapse marked by at least a four-digit inflation rate, the inability for most residents to obtain common consumer goods, and high unemployment. Millions have fled the country, with many of them going to neighboring Colombia and other countries in South America.
HistoryMap of Venezuela. CIA Factbook
The Carib (after which the sea was named), Arawak and Chibcha were the primary indigenous residents of what is now known as Venezuela. Although they practiced agricultural methods such as terracing, they didn't develop major population centers. Christopher Columbus, arriving in 1498, was the first European to the area. The area was officially colonized in 1522 and was ruled out of Bogotá, now the capital of Colombia. The Spaniards generally paid little attention to the area because it was of minor economic value to them. Under the leadership of native son and revolutionary Simón Bolívar and Francisco de Miranda, Venezuela won its independence in 1821. Until the 1950s, the country was generally led by dictators and military strongmen, although the democracy since then has been marked by several coup attempts. The government took a strong leftward turn after 1999 with the election of Hugo Chávez; he died in 2013. Nicolás Maduro was then elected president in a disputed election. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó was recognized as president by the United States and dozens of other countries in 2018, although as of 2019 the Maduro administration maintains de facto control.
Venezuela's name was given by Spanish explorers and means "Little Venice." The designation usually is credited to Alonso de Ojeda, who visited Lake Maracaibo and saw stilted houses that reminded him of the Italian city.