It’s been a rough couple of years for Spain: the country’s economy is in shambles, Catalonia wants to leave the nation, the men’s soccer team had an inglorious exit during last year’s World Cup, and now the United States has more Spanish speakers than the country where the language was born.
A new study by the Instituto Cervantes found that while Mexico still is far and away the country with the most Spanish speakers, with over 121 million people speaking the language, the U.S. sits second worldwide with close to 53 million Spanish speakers. To put this in perspective, that is around 6.2 million more Spanish speakers than the entire population of Spain has altogether.
If Spain is upset about this, the country only has itself to blame as the highest concentrations of Spanish speakers in the U.S. are in states that were formerly Spain’s possessions. Forty-seven percent of people in New Mexico speak Spanish followed by 38 percent in California and 30 percent of Texans. On the other hand, only 1.3 percent of people in West Virginia speak Spanish, but a surprising six percent of Alaskans do.
The Instituto Cervantes compiled these figures by combining estimates of native Spanish speakers and those with bilingual proficiency from data drawn from U.S. census figures and other official government sources.
The report, entitled "El español, una lengua viva" or "Spanish, A Living Language," found that there are a total of 559 million Spanish speakers worldwide, a figure that includes 470 million native speakers and those with some command of the language.
The report also estimated that there are about 21 million people currently studying Spanish and the U.S. leads this category with 7.8 million people, followed by Brazil and France.
Spanish is considered by the United Nation’s Human Development Index as the second most important language on earth, behind the United States but ahead of Mandarin Chinese. The language is the third most used language online - albeit accounting for less than eight percent of all web traffic – and is the second most used language on Facebook behind English.