If you ever wondered what language Latvians speak, the answer is simple – it is indeed Latvian. Around 1.5 million people use Latvian as their mother tongue.

That might not sound a lot, but Latvian can be considered a major language. There are roughly 6 500 spoken languages in the world: only about 200 of them are spoken by more than one million people, and Latvian is one of them.

Latvian belongs to the Baltic branch of the Indo-European family of languages, which differs significantly from the Germanic, Greek, Romance, Slavonic and all other language groups.  But you have no need to worry if you travel to Latvia because Latvians are good with other languages too. 95% of people speak at least one other language, with the most popular foreign languages being English, Russian and German.

Latvian language in numbers

  • Around 1.5 million native speakers in Latvia and about 120 000 abroad.
  • The alphabet consists of 33 letters: 22 standard Latin letters and 11 letters with diacritic marks (Ā, Č, Ē, Ģ, Ī, Ķ, Ļ, Ņ, Š, Ū, Ž). By the way – the Latvian alphabet does not have the letters Q, W, X and Y.
  • 95% of Latvians know at least one foreign language in addition to their mother tongue. 54% of people in Latvia speak at least two foreign languages, but 13% - three. Figures are far higher than the EU average.
  • More than 94% of people belonging to minorities can communicate in Latvian.
  • Latvia offers a unique education system, with state financed minority education programmes in seven languages (Estonian, Hebrew, Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian) and at least 60% of subjects are taught in Latvian or bilingually.
  • Around 150 newspapers are published in Latvian along with 200 magazines and journals.
  • There are also around 2 000 books published in Latvian each year.

Latvian words that you should know

Sveiki! Hello! 
Labrīt! Good morning!
Labdien! Good day!
Uz redzēšanos! Good-bye!
Paldies! Thank you!
Lūdzu Please
Vai Jūs runājat angliski? Do you speak English?
Rīga ir skaista pilsēta! Riga is a beautiful city!
Latvijas prezidentūra Eiropas Savienības Padomē Latvian Presidency of the Council of the European Union