Demolinguistics, the discipline that studies the structure and evolution of linguistic groups, describes phenomena of slow evolution, so that the case of the expansion of the Spanish language is like the journey of a ship that, with its inertia, is already sailing for kilometers. In 2022, its speaking community grew at a similar rate to previous years and reached the figure of 600 million people with some skill (7.5% of the world’s population) and 500 million native speakers. Only Mandarin Chinese has more speakers.
This is reflected in the new yearbook of the Cervantes Institute, Spanish in the world 2023, which was presented today in Madrid. According to their estimates, the Spanish-speaking population will continue to grow until 2068, when it will peak at 724 million people, although it will be a smaller percentage of the projected world population. The imminent Africa’s population explosiona region in which there are no native Spanish speakers, will cause the language to lose some relative weight.
The director of Cervantes, Luis García Montero, and its academic director, Carmen Pastor, explained what will depend on whether the Spanish language extends its expansion cycle. First, associating the language with an attractive cultural offer that increases the number of students. For now, the student body is very large although it is stagnant: in 2021, just over 24 million people were learning Spanish; In 2022, Cervantes had just under 24 million students. From the Institute they explain that this drop is part of a global trend: Increasingly, students learn languages informallyoutside educational institutions and statistical radars.
The other challenge is more complex: will the children of Spanish-speaking immigrants maintain the language? Will your grandchildren do it? In the United States, the population of Latin American origin has not stopped growing, but its attachment to the family language has cracks. “There is a report that says that 85% of Hispanics in the US do not consider that speaking Spanish is mandatory to be part of their community,” explained Luis García Montero. “And that is due, among other things, to the interest in ridiculing Spanish as the language of the poorwhen US Hispanics, if they were united in a single country, would be the fifth largest economy in the world.
There are statistics that go more directly to the heart of the matter. A report presented last September and prepared by the Pew Research Center in Washington DC estimates that 66% of Hispanic children in the United States under the age of five speak fluent Spanish. In 2000, that percentage was 78%. On the other hand, the percentage of Hispanic children who speak English is 72%, compared to 59% in 2000.