7.5% of the world’s population already speaks Spanish, with a total of 591 million potential speakers of this language. This represents an increase of six million more Spanish speakers when compared to 2020. Similarly, the number of native Spanish speakers grew to 493 million people.
These are some of the data reflected in the yearbook “Spanish in the World 2021”, presented by the Cervantes Institute in Madrid on Thursday. The Institute says that the number of Spanish speakers has increased by 70% worldwide in the past 30 years.
The number of native Spanish speakers has grown by four million people in one year, which, together with those who have limited proficiency in Spanish and the 24 million students who have it as a foreign language, puts the potential number of users at 591 million people.
Spanish is the second-largest native language in the world
Spanish remains the second mother tongue in the world by number of speakers, after Mandarin Chinese, according to the study included in the yearbook “El español: una lengua viva” (Spanish: a living language), carried out by David Fernández Vítores.
It is also the third language in a global computation of speakers (including native speakers, limited proficiency and students), after English and Mandarin Chinese.
During the presentation of the yearbook, the director of Cervantes, Luis García Montero, stressed the importance of preserving “the pan-Hispanic awareness” of Spanish. “Studies indicate that in 2060 more than 27 % of the population of the United States will be of Hispanic origin, making the U.S. the second-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world after Mexico, and today this community is already the eighth-largest economy in the world,” he explained.
The yearbook published this year, a special edition for the 30th anniversary of the institution, which is present in 45 countries, includes a presentation by the King of Spain, Felipe VI.
“The role of Cervantes in these three decades is revealing of its importance as an instrument of public diplomacy,” the King said in the yearbook.
Since 2010 (when the report “Spanish: a Living Language” began to be prepared), the number of Spanish students registered by the Cervantes Institute has doubled, from 11.3 million to more than 24 million.
Spanish competes with French and Mandarin Chinese for second place as the language most studied as a second language. And while in the United States, Spanish is by far the most studied language at all levels of education, in the European Union, English is the most studied language, followed by French.
Spanish competes with German for third place, but the proportion of Spanish students in primary and secondary education has risen steadily in recent years, while that of French and German has fallen.
Moreover, in the United Kingdom, the Brexit consolidates the advance of Spanish to such an extent that its study has already overtaken French in high school and the same is expected to happen in the other educational stages this decade.
Eighty-one percent of the world’s students of Spanish are distributed between the United States, the European Union and Brazil, although in Sub-Saharan Africa it is growing significantly, especially in countries where French is an official or co-official language, such as Ivory Coast (with 566,178 students), Benin (412,515), Senegal (356,000), Cameroon (193,018), Gabon (167,410) and Equatorial Guinea (128,895).
Spanish speakers will continue to grow for the next five decades
Long-term forecasts show that the number of Spanish speakers will continue to grow over the next five decades, although their relative weight will gradually decrease between now and the end of the century.
In this sense, García Montero stressed that the great challenge ahead is to strengthen Spanish in the field of artificial intelligence, given that the digital revolution will be “increasingly profound.” “Spanish is the language of Cervantes but also of Ramón y Cajal, we have a task ahead of us in the field of science and technology,” he warned.
Regarding the importance of Spanish in the economy, science and the Internet, the yearbook stresses that the Spanish-speaking community worldwide has a combined purchasing power of approximately 9% of the world’s GDP and that, after English, Spanish is the second language in which most scientific documents are published.
Spanish is the third most used language on the Internet after English and Chinese, such that 7.9% of Internet users communicate in Spanish and it is the second most used language on digital platforms and social networks such as YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia or Instagram, only behind English.