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Spanish Speakers Worldwide up by 70% In the Last 30 Years

This article is available in Spanish.

The number of Spanish speakers has increased by 70% worldwide in the last 30 years, according to the academic publication “El español en el mundo 2021” by Instituto Cervantes, which was presented Thursday, Oct. 14 as part of its 30-year celebration.

Instituto Cervantes publishes “El español en el mundo” every year, and this year’s annual analyzes the international situation, evolution and growth forecasts of the Spanish language.

The organization, which established itself as a “benchmark of prestige of Spanish and its culture,” reports that the number of native Spanish speakers has increased to almost 493 million (four million more than in 2020).

It also reports that potential users of Spanish exceed 591 million (six million more than last year), which is equivalent to 7.5% of the world’s population (includes native speakers, those with limited proficiency and foreign language learners).

Luis García Montero, the director of Instituto Cervantes, described the figures that show that Spanish “is in good health” and that “we are proud of it.”

“El español en el mundo 2021”: At a Glance

Spanish speakers worldwide have grown to almost 70% since the Instituto Cervantes was founded 30 years ago. According to the organization, the number of Spanish speakers will continue to grow over the next five decades.

Spanish is also the fourth most spoken language in the world, after English, French and Chinese. Instituto Cervantes says that in 2060, the United States will be the second largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, after Mexico.

In terms of education, more than 24 million students study Spanish as a foreign language in 2021.

As to economy, the world’s Spanish-speaking community has a combined purchasing power of approximately 9% of the world’s gross domestic product.

In science and culture, Spanish is the second language in which most scientific documents are published.

On the Internet and digital platforms, Instituto Cervantes says that Spanish is the third-most used language on the Internet after English and Chinese. Spanish is also the second-most used language on digital platforms and social media sites such as YouTube, Facebook, Netflix, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, Instagram, etc.

Spanish in the Philippines

The 2021 annual also includes the section “El español en el mundo 2021” wherein directors of Instituto Cervantes in 45 countries report about the current local situation and the evolution of Spanish language over the last three decades.

For the Philippines, Javier Galván Guijo, director of Instituto Cervantes de Manila, explores the history of Spanish language and its current status in terms of education and culture.

In the introduction, he says that Spanish was never spoken by the majority in the Philippines, as was the case in Latin America. “This could have happened if the Philippines had become independent in 1898 instead of falling under the sovereignty of the United States, until 1946 — with the three-year hiatus of Japanese occupation — English being the language that would play the role of lingua franca,” he writes in Spanish.

Galván also offers an insight as to what Filipinos think of the Spanish language, blaming the infamous “Black Legend.” “Except for some social elites, and for sectors of the growing middle class, the Spanish is perceived as very distant, in space and time, and the worst thing is that colonial prejudices continue to exist, due to the fact that the teaching of history at elementary levels continues to repeat the clichés of the black legend sown and propagated by the U.S. colonial administration more than a century ago,” he explains.

With regard to education, he reveals that there were around 18,000 students of Spanish in the Philippines in the 2019–2020 academic year. But according to him, “We do not collect data on academies and other possible non-regulated teaching centers, except for those of the Instituto Cervantes. Nor is the collection of data from universities or private centers of formal education completely exhaustive. For all these reasons, we estimate that the total figure may be a few thousand more than 20,000.”

Galván, in the conclusion, says that the image of Spain in the Philippines 30 years ago was “full of clichés, obscurantism and a marked rejection” and that relations with Spain “had been cut off in ’98.” “The only real contact, albeit indirect, was through families of Spanish origin, the so-called mestizos, who constituted an oligarchy of great social prestige, but which also aroused rejection by other layers of the population,” he continues.

He ends with a silver lining despite the conundrum that a rigorous and systematic data collection and scientific study of Spanish in the Philippines is necessary to be able to draw unequivocal conclusions. “We can conclude that there is an interest in Spanish basically because it offers job opportunities to Filipinos,” Galván says.


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Arvyn Cerézo
Arvyn Cerezo (he/they) is the editor of La Jornada Filipina, an English- and Spanish-language news magazine in Manila. His work has appeared in various international news sites. He currently reviews science fiction and fantasy books for the trade magazine Publishers Weekly, and does reporting and commentary on books for Book Riot. You can find them on arvyncerezo.com.

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