Spanish 101

Spanish is one of the official languages of the United Nations and the European Union. The majority of its speakers are confined to the Western Hemisphere, Europe and the Spanish territories in Africa (Canary Islands, Ceuta and Melilla).

With approximately 106 million first-language and second-language speakers, Mexico boasts the largest population of Spanish-speakers in the world. The four next largest populations reside in Colombia (44 million), Spain (c. 44 million), Argentina (39 million) and the United States of America (U.S. residents age 5 and older who speak Spanish at home number 31 million).

Spanish is the official and most important language in 20 countries: Argentina, Bolivia (co-official Quechua and Aymara), Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea (co-official French), Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay (co-official Guaraní), Peru (co-official Quechua and Aymara), Puerto Rico (co-official English), Spain (co-official Catalan/Valencian, Galician and Basque), Uruguay, Venezuela, and Western Sahara (co-official Arabic).

In Belize, Spanish holds no official recognition, however, it is the native tongue of about 50% of the population, and is spoken as a second language by another 20%. It is arguably the most important and widely-spoken on a popular level, but English remains the sole official language.

In the United States, Spanish is spoken by three-quarters of its 41.3 million Hispanic population. It is also being learned and spoken by a small, though slowly growing, proportion of its non-Hispanic population for its increasing use in business, commerce, and both domestic and international politics. Spanish does hold co-official status in the state of New Mexico, and in the unincorporated U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.

In Brazil, Spanish has obtained an important status as a second language among young students and many skilled professionals. In recent years, with Brazil decreasing its reliance on trade with the USA and Europe and increasing trade and ties with its Spanish-speaking neighbours (especially as a member of the Mercosur trading bloc), much stress has been placed on bilingualism and Spanish proficiency in the country. On July 07, 2005, the National Congress of Brazil gave final approval to a bill that makes Spanish a second language in the country’s public and private primary schools. The close genetic relationship between the two languages, along with the fact that Spanish is the dominant and official language of almost every country that borders Brazil, adds to the popularity. Standard Spanish and Ladino (Judæo-Spanish spoken by Sephardic Jews) may also be spoken natively by some Spanish-descended Brazilians, immigrant workers from neighbouring Spanish-speaking countries and Brazilian Sephardim respectively, who have maintained it as their home language. Additionally, in Brazil's border states that have authority over their educational systems, Spanish has been taught for years. In many other border towns and villages (especially along the Uruguayo-Brazilian border) a mixed language commonly known as Portuñol is also spoken.

In European countries other than Spain and Andorra (where it holds no official status), it may be spoken by some of their Spanish-speaking immigrant communities, primarily in the Netherlands, Italy, France, Germany and the United Kingdom where there is a strong community in London. There has been a sharp increase in the popularity of Spanish in the UK over the last few years. It is spoken by much of the population of Gibraltar, though English remains the only official language. Yanito, an English-Spanish mixed language is also spoken.

Among the countries and territories in Oceania, Spanish is the seventh most spoken language in Australia. It is also spoken by the approximately 3,000 inhabitants of Easter Island, a territorial possession of Chile. The island nations of Guam, Palau, Northern Marianas, Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia all once had Spanish speakers, but Spanish has long since been forgotten, and now only exists as an influence on the local native languages.

In Asia the Spanish language has long been in decline. Spanish ceased to be an official language of the Philippines in 1987, and it is now spoken by less than 0.01% of the population; 2,658 speakers (1990 Census). However, the sole existing Spanish-Asiatic creole language, Chabacano, is also spoken by an additional 0.4% of the Filipino population; 292,630 (1990 census). Most other Philippine languages contain generous quantities of Spanish loan words. Among other Asian countries, Spanish may also be spoken by pockets of ex-immigrant communities, such as Mexican-born ethnic Chinese deported to China or third and fourth generation ethnic Japanese Peruvians returning to their ancestral homeland of Japan.

Spanish is also spoken by segments of the populations in Aruba, Canada, Curaçao, Israel (both standard Spanish and Ladino), northern Morocco (both standard Spanish and Ladino), Netherlands Antilles, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey (Ladino), and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In the Antarctic, the territorial claims and permanent bases made by Argentina, Chile, Peru and Spain also place Spanish as the official and working language of these enclaves.

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