As one of the most spoken languages in the world, Spanish is a popular tongue to learn, as well as to learn about. How many people speak Spanish, exactly? How many Spanish-speaking countries are there, and where is it an official language? We answer these questions and more.
A Brief History Of Spanish
Spanish, like French, Italian, Romanian and Portuguese, is a Romance language that evolved from Vulgar (Common) Latin. It originated on the Iberian Peninsula — the southwest corner of Europe which includes present-day Spain and Portugal. The Castilian continuation of Vulgar Latin (from Spain’s Castile region) mixed with the Arabic dialect spoken by the Moors, who conquered parts of the region. After centuries of intermingling, the language formed what became the standardized Spanish language by the 1200s.
Castilian isn’t the only dialect of Spanish in the world, though. The Andalusian dialect of Spanish popped up around the same time, and is still spoken in parts of southern Spain. And later, in the 16th century, Spain built its empire in the Americas and brought their language with them. Today, Spain is home to less than 10 percent of the world’s Spanish speakers.
Where In The World Is Spanish Spoken?
There are many Spanish speaking countries in the world, as Spanish is the official language of the following 20 countries, as well as Puerto Rico: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Although it’s not an official language, Spanish is also commonly spoken in the United States, Belize, Andorra and Gibraltar.
How Many People Speak Spanish In The World?
There are more than 485 million native speakers of Spanish, making it second only to Chinese in terms of the most spoken languages in the world. English is just behind Spanish, with approximately 373 million native speakers. Spanish is the third most studied language in the world, after English and French. In addition to the 485 million native speakers, around 74 million people around the world speak Spanish as a second language.
How Many People Speak Spanish In The U.S.?
In the United States, about 41.7 million people speak Spanish as a first language (about 12.5 percent of the population), and that number continues to grow. Additionally, the United States is home to nearly 15 million people who speak Spanish as a second language. This makes it the second-largest Spanish speaking country in the world (after Mexico), but one study predicts the United States will be the largest by 2050.
Americans who don’t already speak Spanish are trying to learn it. Spanish is the most studied language in the U.S. In fact, 50 percent of American college students and more than 70 percent of K-12 students choose to learn Spanish. This is significantly more than the 12 percent of college students and 15 percent of K-12 students who choose French, the second most studied language.
How Many People Speak Spanish In Latin America?
With 122 million native speakers, Mexico has the largest population of Spanish speakers in the world. Spanish is the official language of Mexico, in addition to many countries in Central and South America. Two of the largest Spanish speaking countries in South America are Colombia (about 50 million Spanish speakers) and Argentina (about 45.5 million Spanish speakers). Roughly 60 percent of the Latin American population speaks Spanish. Most of the rest of the residents speak Portuguese (around 34 percent), and a small percentage speak other languages, such as French, English and various Mayan languages.
How Many People Speak Spanish In Europe?
Spain is where the Spanish language originated, so naturally it’s the hub of Spanish speakers in Europe. But with 46.6 million Spanish speakers, Spain has fallen behind the United States, becoming the country with the third-largest Spanish speaking population.
In Europe, Spanish is also widely spoken in Andorra and Gibraltar, but their official languages are Catalan and English, respectively. In Switzerland, about 216,000 people, or 2.4 percent of the population, speak Spanish as well. It’s one of 24 official languages in the European Union, and is also spoken by small pockets of people in other European countries, such as Italy, Germany, France and the United Kingdom.
How Many People Speak Spanish In The Rest Of The World?
Although the vast majority of Spanish speakers reside in the Americas and Europe, there are people who speak Spanish in other parts of the world as well. One country that stands out is the Philippines, where Spanish was an official language from the late 16th century until relatively recently. The Philippines were under Spanish rule from 1565 to 1898, but even after the end of the Spanish-American War, it remained a co-official language with English until 1987, when it was designated as an optional language. Today, approximately 3 million Filipinos speak Spanish or Chavacano — a Spanish-based Creole language.
In Africa, Spanish is one of three official languages in Equatorial Guinea, where nearly 68 percent of the population speaks it. Spanish is also spoken in territories in northern Africa controlled by Spain, and in Morocco, which is geographically close to Spain. Finally, there are small communities of Spanish speakers in Angola and South Sudan.
Why Learn Spanish?
Spanish is the second most spoken native language in the world, meaning potential opportunities for Spanish learners are abundant. You can learn Spanish for travel, for work or to connect with your neighbors. Plus, it’s one of the easiest languages for English speakers to pick up.
Note: All language data is sourced from Ethnologue. This article was originally published on April 19, 2017. It has been updated.