The United States is now the world’s second largest Spanish-speaking country after Mexico, according to a new study published by the prestigious Instituto Cervantes.
The report says there are 41 million native Spanish speakers in the US plus a further 11.6 million who are bilingual, mainly the children of Spanish-speaking immigrants. This puts the US ahead of Colombia (48 million) and Spain (46 million) and second only to Mexico (121 million).
Among the sources cited in the report is the US Census Office which estimates that the US will have 138 million Spanish speakers by 2050, making it the biggest Spanish-speaking nation on Earth, with Spanish the mother tongue of almost a third of its citizens.
By state the highest concentration is in the former Spanish colonies of the south and south-west, with New Mexico top at 47%, followed by California and Texas (both 38%) and Arizona (30%). Some 18% of New Yorkers speak Spanish while only 1.3% of West Virginians do. Perhaps surprisingly, more than 6% of Alaskans are Spanish speakers.
The report, El español, una lengua viva – Spanish, a living language – estimates that there are 559 million Spanish speakers worldwide, a figure that includes 470 million native speakers and those with some command of the language.
The Instituto Cervantes was established in 1991 to promote the Spanish language abroad and last year had more than 200,000 students registered on its courses. It estimates that 21 million people are currently studying Spanish and here, too, the US leads with 7.8 million learning the language, followed by Brazil and France.
Between them they account for 78% while Latin America only accounts for 22%. It calculates that altogether Spanish speakers contribute 9.2% of the world’s GDP.
The Index of Human Development ranks Spanish as the second most important language on earth, behind English but ahead of Mandarin. It is also the third most widely used language on the internet, although less than 8% of internet traffic is in Spanish. The report says that Spanish is the second most used language on Twitter in London and New York. It also comes second on Facebook, a long way behind English though well ahead of Portuguese, Facebook’s third language.