The geography of the Spanish language: how important is Spanish around the world?
The Index of Human Development ranks Spanish as the second most important language on earth, behind English but ahead of Mandarin.
Spanish is the third most widely used language on the internet (graph), although less than 8% of total internet traffic takes place in Spanish. Spanish is the second most used language on Facebook, a long way behind English but well ahead of Portuguese.
According to El español, una lengua viva – Spanish, a living language, a report from the Instituto Cervantes in Spain (which promotes the Spanish language abroad via language classes and cultural events) there are about 559 million Spanish speakers worldwide. This figure includes 470 million native speakers and an additional 89 million who have some command of the language.
While Mexico remains the world’s largest Spanish-speaking country, with about 121 million Spanish speakers, second place belongs to the USA, followed by Colombia. The USA has an estimated 41 million native speakers of Spanish plus 11 million who are bilingual; Colombia has 48 million Spanish-speakers.
In terms of economic importance, the report’s authors calculate that Spanish speakers contribute 9.2% of the world’s GDP. About two-thirds of Spanish-linked GDP is generated in North America (USA, Canada and Mexico) and the European Union, while Latin America (excluding Mexico) accounts for 22%.
The main concentrations of Spanish speakers in the USA are in the states of New Mexico (47% of the population), California and Texas (both 38%), and Arizona (30%). 18% of New Yorkers speak Spanish and, somewhat surprisingly, more than 6% of Alaskans are also Spanish speakers. Interestingly, the US Census Office estimates that by 2050, the USA will have 138 million Spanish speakers and could then overtake Mexico as the largest Spanish-speaking nation in the world. This assumes that current predictions for Mexico’s population increase over the next 35 years hold true.
Want to learn more?
- Francisco Moreno y Jaime Otero. 2008. Atlas de la lengua española en el mundo (World Atlas of the Spanish Language). [Spanish]
- The geography of languages in Mexico: Spanish and 62 indigenous languages
- Is the number of speakers of indigenous languages in Mexico increasing?
- Some indigenous languages do not have words for “left” or “right”
- Cultural exchanges between Mexico and the Philippines
- Mexico’s Spanish language place names
- The whistled language of the Chinantec people in Oaxaca
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