Spanish, a world language on the rise

With over 570 million speakers, Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world.
12/20/2017

Spanish is the mother tongue of 470 million people, making it the world’s second most spoken language by number of native speakers, according to El español, una lengua viva, Instituto Cervantes’ annual report on the use of Spanish in the world.

Spanish is also the world’s second most spoken language by total number of speakers, who exceed 570 million. Not only is it an official language in 21 countries, Spanish is also the second most spoken language in international communication and the third most widely used language on the internet.

Of the countries where Spanish is not an official language, the United States stands out, due to its sizeable Spanish-speaking population. The US is expected to become the country with the second largest Spanish-speaking community by 2060, surpassed only by Mexico.

Spanish, a financial asset

With more than 20 million language students worldwide, Spanish is tied with Mandarin and French as the second most studied language in the world, behind English. The US is the country with the most students of Spanish, but our language is also very popular in the UK, France, Sweden and Denmark. To meet the growing demand for Spanish courses, the International Spanish Language Evaluation Service (SIELE) was launched in 2016, offering an official online certificate of proficiency in Spanish.

In the field of science, the contributions made by Spanish-speaking countries have been growing steadily since 1996.

Spanish opens up outstanding cultural, social and economic opportunities for cultural industries, as well as for financial transactions, internationalization of businesses, migratory movements and for all activities related to the teaching of Spanish as a foreign language.

An important contribution has been made to the expansion of the Spanish language by the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport’s foreign educational programmes, which promote the presence of Spanish in formal education abroad. In higher education, Spanish universities have boosted their international relations by signing agreements with foreign counterparts, attending international trade fairs and expanding student and faculty exchange programmes.

Two public institutions play a key role in promoting the Spanish language abroad: Instituto Cervantes, which has offices in 90 cities in 43 countries, and the Royal Spanish Language Academy, which was established in 1713 with the aim of safeguarding the unity of the Spanish language around the world.

Milestones in the history of Spanish

Spanish is a continuation of a third-century dialect of spoken Latin, known as Vulgar Latin. In the late eleventh century, a process of language standardisation or assimilation began, resulting in the emergence of a common Spanish language— Castilian Spanish.

Decisively for the success of the Spanish language, King Alfonso X of Castile (1252-1284), commissioned extensive cultured works in Castilian Spanish. This decision brought about a veritable cultural revolution, as it gave Spanish official status, on a par with Latin.

In 1492, in Salamanca, the Seville-born grammarian Antonio de Nebrija published his work entitled Gramática, which was the first grammar of the Spanish language and also the first grammar of any European modern language. The first printed book in Spanish had appeared beforehand, in 1483.