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Teaching Spanish: Vocabulary Practice with Country Names

written by: Curt Smothers • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 3/2/2012

Learning Spanish opens new vistas to students. Spanish is spoken by millions of people in 20 countries south of the U.S. border and the Caribbean. This article is a suggested vocabulary resource that helps students in the vocabulary of country nationalities and geographical locations.

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    A Combination Vocabulary and Geography Approach

    Learning the Spanish name for nearly all Hispanic countries is not particularly difficult. With the sole exception of the island nation of the Dominican Republic (la República Dominicana), each country is a cognate (the same in spelling and meaning) of its English counterpart. However, there is a teaching opportunity using the associated nationality with each country. For example, a person from Ecuador is called un ecuatoriano, while someone from Paraguay is known as un paraguayo. So, many of the associated nationality labels must be memorized, though there is a discernible pattern.

    Likewise, teachers can use nationality vocabulary drills to familiarize students with where our Spanish-speaking neighbors are located on the map. For example, where are the tiny South American countries inhabited by los ecuatorianos and los paraguayos? This article includes a geographical "factoid" for each Spanish-speaking country in our hemisphere, along with maps.

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    Country and Nationality Data for Vocabulary Practice with “Factoid”

    North America

    Mexico

    Capital: Ciudad de México

    Nationality: mexicano/a

    Factoid: Just south of the U.S. border

    Caribbean

    Cuba

    Capital: la Habana

    Nationality: cubano/a

    Factoid: Just 90 miles south of Florida, the largest Island in the Caribbean

    la República Dominicana

    Capiital: Santo Domingo

    Nationality: dominicano/a

    Factoid: Shares the eastern half of the Island of Hispaniola with French-speaking Haiti.

    Puerto Rico (Spanish-speaking U.S. territory)

    Capital: San Juan

    Nationality: puertoriqueño

    Factoid: The small island just east of the Dominican Republic

    Central America

    Costa Rica

    Capital - San José

    Nationality: costarricense

    Factoid: A lush, tropical country just north of Panama.

    El Salvador

    Capital: San Salvador

    Nationality: salvadoreño/a

    Factoid: Smallest Central American country. Located to the South of Guatemala and Honduras.

    Guatemala

    Capital: Ciudad de Guatemala

    Nationality: guatemalteco/a

    Factoid: Just south of Mexico

    Honduras

    Capital: Tegucigalpa

    Nationality: hondureño/a

    Factoid: Due east of Guatemala.

    Nicaragua

    Capital: Managua

    Nationality nicaragüense

    Factoid: South of Honduras, north of Costa Rica

    Panamá

    Capital: Ciudad de Panamá

    Nationality: panameño/a

    Factoid: Narrow country bridging Central and South America

    For extra credit:

    • What is the only non-Spanish speaking country in Central America? What is its official language?

    Answer: Belize, English

    South America

    Argentina

    Capital: Buenos Aires

    Nationality: argentino/a

    Factoid: Largest Spanish-speaking country in South America. Just east of Chile in the southern most part of South America

    Bolivia

    Capital: La Paz

    Nationality: boliviano/a

    Factoid: Easternmost landlocked country in South America.

    Chile

    Capital: Santiago

    Nationality: chileno/a

    Factoid: Long, narrow country occupying about half of South America’s Pacific Coast.

    Colombia

    Capital: Bogotá

    Nationality: colombiano/a

    Factoid: Located in the extreme northwest of South America.

    Ecuador

    Capital: Quito

    Nationality: ecuatoriano/a

    Factoid: Located in the northwest between Columbia and Peru

    Paraguay

    Capital: Asunción

    Nationality: paraguayo/a

    Factoid: Second of the landlocked countries, just to the southeast of Boliva and due north of Argentina

    Perú

    Capital: Lima

    Nationality: peruano/a

    Factoid: On South America’s Pacific coast just south of Ecuador and north of Chile.

    Uruguay

    Capital: Montevideo

    Nationality: urguayo/a

    Factoid: On South America’s south Atlantic coast, east of Argentina and south of Brazil

    Venezuela

    Capital: Caracas

    Nationality: venezolano/a

    Factoid: Located in north central South America, east of Columbia and on the south Caribbean shore.

    For extra credit:

    • What are the official languages of the South American non-Spanish-speaking countries of Brazil, Guyana and Suriname?

    Answer: Portuguese, English, and Dutch, respectively

    • What nation in South America is the only European overseas holding on the mainland?

    Answer: French Guyana

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    Maps of Mexico, Caribbean, Central and South America

    Mexico and CaribbeanSouth America
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    Read more about Hispanic countries and nationalities at:

    About.com: Spanish Language - Names of Nationalities

    Nations Online - Country Names in English-Spanish

Country Names and Nationalities in Spanish

Learning the Spanish names for countries, languages, and nationalities is a good vocabulary builder for Spanish students. This series is a vocabulary-building list of world countries along with some interesting "factoids" on each.
  1. Teaching Spanish: Vocabulary Practice with Country Names
  2. Teaching Spanish: Vocabulary Practice with European Countries