MADRID – Spanish (Español) or rather ‘Castillian‘ (Castellano) is the second most spoken language worldwide after Chinese. Then follows English and Arabic. Spanish is the official language in 22 countries.
In total, 572 million people worldwide speak Spanish. This distinguishes between 477 million native speakers, almost 74 million people who have some level of Spanish knowledge and 21 million people who study Spanish as a second language. These figures come from the annual report on the Spanish language in 2017 of the Spanish language and culture institute Cervantes.
The fact that Spanish is officially called “Castillian” is because the language originated from the regions of Castile – La Mancha and Castile and León. In the wake of Columbus and his conquest of the New World, Castilian became the official language of all Central and South American countries that were former colonies of the Spanish Kingdom from the fifteenth century onwards. The language later spread to the United States through the mass migration of Hispanic residents. In Africa, Spanish is spoken in Equatorial Guinea and the Western Sahara (southwest of Morocco). In Asia, Spanish is still spoken by a small elite group in the Philippines.
Origin of the Spanish language
The first written evidence of the existence of Spanish dates back to the year 964. The margins of the religious manuscript Glosas Emilianenses contain notes in both medieval Spanish and Basque to the main text in Latin. A monk in the La Rioja region tried to interpret the meaning of the text in this way. The first Spanish grammar was created by historian, educator, and poet Elio Antonio de Nebrija and published in 1492, the same year Columbus discovered America. In 1713, the Real Academia Española was founded as an administrator and guardian of the language.
Interesting facts about the Spanish language
Like English, Spanish has a Latin origin. Consequently, if you have a reasonable command of English, you can already recognise more than 3,000 Spanish words. For example, most English words that end in –tion can be translated into Spanish with –ción at the end.
In general, Spanish is considered an easy language to learn. You pronounce the words exactly as you write them. This makes it one of the most phonetic languages in the world. The hardest thing to learn for many is to use gender and verb conjugations with six different endings for each tense.
If you master Spanish, you have a significant headstart in learning French, Portuguese, Italian, Catalan and Romanian. This is because these are all Romance languages with many similarities in grammar and vocabulary.
According to the Cervantes Institute, 500 million people worldwide speak Spanish. This number will have risen to around 600 million by 2050. Within three generations, 10% of the world’s population will be able to communicate in Spanish.
In terms of mother tongue, Spanish is the second language in the world after Mandarin (China). Latin is not the only strong influence on the Spanish. Arabic also left significant traces. This is due to more than seven centuries of Arab rule on the Iberian Peninsula between 711 and 1492. In the last centuries, English has been of the most influence on the language.
The biggest number of Spanish-speaking people do not live in Spain but in Mexico. In this country, 140 million people speak Spanish. Hereafter comes the United States with 43 million native speakers and 15 million people who have some level of Spanish. By comparison, 47 million people live in Spain.
The economic value
In 2017, Spain’s King Felipe said: ‘Our language is an immense cultural treasure, but also an extraordinary source of economic prosperity. Real and tangible, in the present and the future’. This was during the closing presentation of years-long research into the value of the Spanish language conducted by the Telefónica Foundation. A common language facilitates trade, which was the most important conclusion of this study. Due to the continuing economic and scientific globalization, international communication is becoming increasingly important. Spanish plays a crucial role in this context. The sectors with leading companies for which the Spanish language is pivotal are very diverse. Spanish plays an important role in the publishing, pharmaceutical, renewable energy and food industry sectors. As Juan Manuel Bonet, director of Cervantes, said during the same presentation, “the Spanish language is very helpful. It opens markets’.