Teaching Spanish: Vocabulary Practice with Country Names

By Curt Smothers

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.

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.

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

Maps of Mexico, Caribbean, Central and South America

Mexico and CaribbeanSouth America

Read more about Hispanic countries and nationalities at:

About.com: Spanish Language - Names of Nationalities

Nations Online - Country Names in English-Spanish

Popular Pages