The number of Spanish speakers grows 70% in the last 30 years

Sede del Instituto Cervantes, en Madrid.
Headquarters of the Cervantes Institute, in Madrid. THE COUNTRY

Since 1991 the number of people who speak Spanish in the world has grown by 70%, about 240 million more people . The figure includes second place after Mandarin Chinese. In the count there are also those who defend themselves with Spanish, without being their mother tongue, 76, 7 million; and those who study it, 19 million, to add 591 million (five more than last year), 7.5% of earthlings. In this global calculation, it remains the third language, after English and Mandarin Chinese, according to the annual report, corresponding to 2021, presented the morning of Thursday by the Instituto Cervantes, in which it was recalled that the date of 1991, year in which, under the Government of the socialist Felipe González, started this institution, dependent on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation. This time the yearbook includes an article by King Felipe in which he points out that “the role of Cervantes in these three decades reveals its importance as an instrument of public diplomacy.”

With these data, the director of Cervantes, Luis García Montero, has described the health of Spaniards in the world as “good”, but has warned that “towards the middle of this century , the demography of Spanish will stop and other areas will grow, such as sub-Saharan Africa ”. The report explains this increase in 70% “to the strong growth of the population in countries where Spanish is the official language: only in Mexico, the main country by number of Spanish-speakers, means adding around 1.2 million speakers year”. Another factor “is the incorporation of a large part of the indigenous community of these countries, either as bilingual speakers or with limited competence.” Outside the Spanish-speaking countries, “the main engine of growth has been the United States, where during the last three decades this community has registered birth rates much higher than the country’s average.” There is a final reason, “of a technical nature, such as the refinement of the data collection methods related to Spanish, as well as the appearance of new documentary sources, which have allowed a contingent of speakers to surface.”

On Wednesday it was announced that the General State Budgets will dedicate to Cervantes 161 million in 2022. García Montero has wanted to stop at the financial issue of the institution, which in the last year has had 135 million budget, of which 70 came from the State. The head of the institution has said that this figure will rise in the General State Budgets until 76. “And we must add the European funds, 80 millions for four years. We are interested in approving the budgets to be able to open a new center in Seoul and for the digital transformation of the teaching of Spanish in the world ”.

For this reason, he has defended that in the defense of Spanish “we must all go together, without imperialist demands on the language, with the incorporation of the Ibero-American community ”. Finally, he added the fact that “the Spanish-speaking community accounts for 9% of world GDP.” In the discussion after the presentation of the report, the economist José Luis García Delgado, professor at the University of Nebrija, commented on this economic dimension that “having a common language reduces transaction costs, and is like a single currency . For the Spanish-speaking community, the Spanish language is like the euro. ”

Mother tongue of 493 millions

A look at the figures for Spanish in the last year, a photograph that usually shows slight changes, indicates that almost 493 millions of people speak it as their mother tongue, four million more than in 2020, a category in the which remains in second position, after the Chinese, which has 950 million. As for those who are learning it, they are 24. 069. 206 (almost two million more than in 2020). In this section, Cervantes emphasizes that, since 2010 the number of students has doubled, from 11, 3 million to 24 current millions in 111 countries. This figure places it in fourth place, behind English, Mandarin Chinese and French. García Montero has stressed that of the 26 EU countries, 018 prefer Spanish as a second foreign language to study.

Of the countries where it is studied, the strength of the United States stands out, where it is “by far the most studied language at all levels of teaching ”, says the yearbook. If its progression continues, in 2060, the United States will be the second Spanish-speaking country in the world, after Mexico, because “the 27, 5% of the US population will be of Hispanic origin ”. García Delgado has pointed out that “it is necessary to get Spanish to move from the streets to the decision-making floors in the United States. When Bill Clinton came to power, in 1992, they voted 11 millions of Hispanics. In the last elections, in 2020, they have been 33. But, the future of our language is not the number of speakers, but its prestige, and the institutional and democratic quality and the economic progress of the societies where it is spoken. ”

The report Spanish in the world , which began to be published from 1998, also highlights that the study of this language “grows significantly in Sub-Saharan Africa, in 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. 11), Cameroon (193. 0 18), Gabon (167. 410) or Equatorial Guinea (128. 895) ”.

Between the spaces where the Spanish has to present battle is science. After English, it is the second language in which more documents of a scientific nature are published. On this matter, the scientist Elea Giménez Toledo, from the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), stated in the debate: “We are a great producer of scientific books, especially in the humanities and social sciences, but we must make it visible, we must institutionalize it. ”

As for its presence on the internet, it is third, at a sidereal distance from English and Chinese. 7.9% of Internet users communicate in Spanish, while in English they are the 25, 9% and in Chinese the 19,4%. In the most important social networks and platforms, it is the second: as in YouTube, with the 15% of the contents, while English is the 66%; on Wikipedia it is second in users, but ninth in content production. That runner-up is maintained on Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram.

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