The position of Spanish in the world in 2020

Position Spanish in the world 2020Antwerp - Lieve Vangehuchten - Spanish is the mother tongue of almost 489 million people. That's just under 4% more than in 2015. If we add the speakers of Spanish as a second or foreign language, we will reach a total of 585 million people, or 7.5% of the world's population.

With these figures, Spanish is the second most spoken mother tongue in the world, after Chinese (Mandarin).

Demographers predict that the number of native Spanish speakers will increase steadily over the next 50 years, even outside the countries where Spanish is an official language, although the predicted growth is less than in previous reports (706 million speakers by 2050 instead of 756 million).


Third most spoken language

By 2060, the United States will be the country with the second most Spanish speakers, preceded only by Mexico. In total, 27.5% of the U.S. population will be of Spanish-speaking origin. Already (2020) the Spanish-speaking community is the largest ethnic minority in the US.

Spanish is by far the most studied second or foreign language in American education. There are three times as many students studying Spanish as all other foreign languages combined.

There is also a lot of enthusiasm for the study of Spanish in other parts of the world. More than 22 million people worldwide are currently learning Spanish as a second or foreign language, 1 million more than in 2015.

If we add all the people who learn Spanish to the native speakers of Spanish, then Spanish is the third most spoken language in the world after English and Chinese.

In Belgium, more than 45,000 people currently learn Spanish in secondary, university and evening education.


Also economically speaking, Spanish occupies an important place. In total, Spanish speakers account for 9% of the world's purchasing power, and they generate almost 7% of the world's GDP. Spanish is therefore the second most important language in the international economy, after the undisputed business lingua franca, the English language.


Spanish is also a player of interest on the international political scene. In the United Nations, Spanish is the third most widely used language, after English and French, and in the European Union Spanish is the fourth language, after the languages already mentioned and after German.

Brexit is expected to increase the relative importance of Spanish.


Scientifically, Spanish is the second most widely used language in academic publications after English. A total of 4.3% of the production of scientific texts comes from a Spanish-speaking country, mainly covering the medical, social sciences and humanities. An important caveat here is that eight times more publications come from the Anglo-Saxon world.


On the Internet, Spanish is the third most important language, after English and Chinese, but on social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) it is the second most important language, also in terms of searches on Wikipedia. The Spanish-speaking population in the US in particular prefers Spanish to English on digital platforms.

The state of Spanish

These figures and many other relevant data on the position and importance of Spanish in the world can be consulted in detail in El español: una lengua viva , anannual report by the Instituto Cervantes, the organisation that wants to promote the Spanish language internationally. With this report, which relies on demographic, socio-economic and cultural variables, the Instituto Cervantes has been closely monitoring the evolution of Spanish in the world since 2010.

Positive trends, but also challenges

From 2010 to 2020, important positive trends can be observed, such as an increase of almost 60% in the number of learners of Spanish as a second or foreign language and correspondingly increased language tourism, and - relative to French and German - the growing importance of Spanish in the main international forums.

However, the report also highlights important challenges, particularly in terms of the relative importance of Spanish, which will decrease to 6.3% of the world's population by 2100, the limited economic weight of spanish-speaking countries and the subordinate role of the Spanish language in leading scientific publications compared to English, although Spanish also leaves French and German behind.

The report El español: una lengua viva (2020) is free to download as a pdf (), but only in Spanish.

Information in Dutch and French can be requested from the Instituto Cervantes in Brussels or from Prof. Dr. Lieve Vangehuchten, titular Spanish for academic and professional purposes at the University ofAntwerp(


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Author: Lieve Vangehuchten

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