Ladino and Judeo-Spanish

Quick Answer

Ladino(Ladino), also known as Judeo-Spanish, is a Romance language that has a lot to do with Old Spanish. It is the language still used today by some Sephardic Jews throughout the world.

When many people think of Judaism and languages, they think of Hebrew or Yiddish. But they’re not the only languages linked to the Jewish community! Have you ever heard of Ladino?

What Is Ladino?

Ladino, also referred to as Judeo-Spanish, is a Romance language that was—and still is—spoken throughout regions around the Mediterranean. Ladino mixes old Castilian Spanish with Hebrew and other languages that it came into contact with.

Due to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand’s expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, many Spanish Sephardic Jews were forced to leave the country and moved to other locations around the Mediterranean. They brought their language with them. Over time, Ladino was enriched through contact with the other languages spoken in the places to which Sephardic Jews moved.

What happened in 1492?

Those who studied at elementary schools in the United States know the rhyme, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” But did you know that this was a horrible year in Spain? In 1492, los Reyes Católicos(the Catholic Monarchs), Ferdinand and Isabella, gave the approximately 300,000 Jews in Spain a choice: convert to Catholicism or leave. Many Sephardic Jews chose to leave. However, some stayed in Spain and converted to Catholicism. Those who decided to stay were called conversos, or converts. It’s important to note that many conversos continued to practice Judaism in secret while still living in Spain.

Who are the Sephardic Jews?

The terms Sephardic Jews, Sephardim, or Hispanic Jews refer to an ethnic division within the Jewish community. Sephardic Jews originally lived on the Iberian Peninsula. In fact, the name “Sephardic” originates from “Sepharad,” a Hebrew word often translated as Spain.

Ladino Vocabulary

In this section, we will look at some Ladino vocabulary, proverbs, and phrases. Once you see modern written Ladino, you’ll certainly notice that many words are quite similar to Spanish!

Written Ladino

Ladino was originally written using the Hebrew alphabet. Nowadays, Ladino is typically written using the Latin alphabet.

If you’d like to learn about Soletreo, Solitreo, or Sephardic cursive—the original way of writing Ladino—check out this brief lesson from the University of Washington.

Ladino Vocabulary

Are you ready to learn some Ladino, or Judeo-Spanish, vocabulary? Check out this list!

LadinoSpanishEnglish
doctor
doctor
doctor
espanyol
español
Spanish
grasias
gracias
thank you
guerta
huerto
garden
kantika
canción
song
kaza
casa
house
musafir
huésped
guest
profesor
profesor
teacher
sivdad
ciudad
city
syelo
cielo
sky

Did you recognize any words on this list? Nine out of ten of the words are quite similar to their Spanish translation. The word for guest, musafir, comes from Ladino's contact with Turkish.

Ladino Proverbs and Phrases

Phrase in LadinoEnglish Translation
Kaminos de leche i miel!Bon voyage!
Ke haber?What’s up?
Kome kon gana!Bon appétit!
Komo te yamas?What’s your name?
Komo estas?How are you?
Sano i rezio!Farewell!
Proverb in LadinoEnglish Translation
Refranes mentirozos no ay.There are no false proverbs.
Los peches grandes comen peches chicos.The big fish eat the small fish.
De una pulga lo hacen gamello.From a flea they make a camel.
Kuando un avla, serra la boca y avre los oídos.When someone speaks, close your mouth and open your ears.

Is Ladino Still Spoken?

Yes! However, it's in danger of being lost. In an article about the language, The Jerusalem Post states that there are around 60,000 Ladino speakers left, with the majority of Ladino speakers residing in Israel. There is another large community of Ladino speakers in Turkey, where they publish the only Ladino newspaper in the world, called “El Amaneser” (Spanish: amanecer, English: dawn). The United Nations considers Ladino to be an endangered language.

Can I Learn Ladino?

Now that you’ve learned a few words and phrases in Ladino, you might be wondering, “I speak Spanish. Can I learn Ladino too?” The answer is yes! There are several resources available online to help you learn Ladino. A quick search will help you find the most recent websites, apps, and other resources to learn this language. The University of Washington’s Stroum Center for Jewish Studies offers a number of resources on their website to learn more about Ladino.

If you know any kids who want to learn Ladino, check out the Ora de Despertar project by Sarah Aroeste on her YouTube page.

Mersí muncho (thank you very much) for reading our article!

Would you like to learn more about how other languages have influenced Spanish? Be sure to check out these articles!