The Global Importance of Spanish
From its origins in south-west Europe, Spanish has become an internationally important language with a crucial role to play in the modern word stage.
Numbers of SpeakersAlthough it is not easy to define ‘speakers’, and we have to treat all statistics about numbers of language speakers with caution, the indications are that Spanish is now spoken by about 400 million people, making it the third most widely spoken language after Mandarin Chinese and English. So it is, by any definition, a world language. It has the second largest number of native speakers of any language, and is the official language of 24 countries.
International UseIt is the second most used language in international communication. Spanish is also one of more than 20 official languages of the European Union, one of six official languages of the United Nations, and the fastest growing language in the world. It is also the second most studied language in the world.
Spanish on the RiseWith the birth rate high in much of the Spanish-speaking world, it seems reasonable to expect this trend in the rise of Spanish to continue. By the year 2050, almost half of the US population could be Spanish speaking, for example, and Hispanics represent the fastest growing ethnic group in that country.
This rising importance and status of Spanish in the US is having a significant effect on its spread world-wide, and, in particular, within the English-speaking world.
Economically ImportantSpanish-speaking consumers and businesses account for almost 20 percent of all gross spending.
Spanish firms have grown in importance in global markets, thanks to the rapid deregulation of their domestic market. Spain, which never had a strong currency, now has the euro, and thus gets more leverage in the global marketplace.
Latin American countries are experiencing strong economic growth and becoming important global commercial partners. The existing free trade agreements between Hispanic countries and North America are expected to bring further growth to Latin American economies.
In Latin America, urbanisation, industrialisation and technological advances have led to consolidation of Spanish, often at the expense of local indigenous languages.
Apart from Spain and the Philippines, all the principal Spanish-speaking states border on other Spanish-speaking states. This has been important in terms of language spread and in maintaining the presence of the language.
Nearly half the world’s online population now speak a language other than English at home. This trend towards languages other than English on the Internet appears to be on the increase, and, particularly in response to the rise in e-commerce. Spanish is likely to feel the benefits of this trend - of the 56 million people who speak languages on the Internet other than English, Spanish speakers represent almost 25 per cent.
Additionally, there are a healthy number of respected Spanish language newspapers, radio and television stations across the world, in particular a growing number available in the US.
Whether Spanish continues as a strong global language will depend on its ability to withstand potential fragmentation from a new and hybrid form of international Spanish (es) which could start to develop, in the same way international English (es) have which many English mother tongue speakers now find alien.