Spanish is one of the Iberian Romance languages that originated on the Iberian Peninsula. It evolved from the Vulgar Latin brought to the Peninsula by the Romans around 210 BCE. The Spanish language is one of the United Nations’ six languages and an official language of the European Union, Union of South American Nations, Organization of American States, the African Union, and several other international organizations. Globally, it is the native language of close to 500 million people, making it the world’s fourth-most spoken native language after Mandarin Chinese. Despite its popularity as a spoken language, the Spanish language is rarely used in technology and scientific writing. However, it is the third most used language online.
Besides the 500 million native speakers, 75 million people speak Spanish as their foreign or second language, while millions of other people can communicate in it with limited capacity. It is used as the official language in 20 sovereign states and one dependency. Apart from Equatorial Guinea and Spain, the majority of Spanish speakers live in the Americas.
About 420 million are in the Americas. The region of the Americas with the majority of Spanish-speakers is known as Hispanic America, to differentiate from Latin America which includes countries with another dominant Romance language besides Spanish. In these countries, Spanish is the main language and may share the official status with other Indigenous or foreign languages. Although the United States, Canada, and Brazil are not part of Hispanic America, they too have significant Spanish speakers.
In Africa, Spanish is one of the African Union’s official languages. However, it is the official language of only one Africa state, Equatorial Guinea. Spanish is also widely spoken in some North African cities like Melilla and Ceuta and the Canary Islands. Morocco has about 20,000 Spanish speakers, some of which live in the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. In Oceania, Spanish is the most popular and official language on Easter Island, a Chilean territory.
Countries Where Spanish Is The Official Language
Spanish is the official and the most-used language in 20 countries. It is a de facto official language in five of the 20 countries and by law in the 15 others. Apart from Equatorial Guinea and Spain, the rest of the countries that use Spanish as the official language are part of Hispanic America. Mexico is the largest Hispanophone country, with over 120 million Spanish speakers. Although it uses Spanish as an official language, its official status is not recognized by law. Mexico has no official language at the federal level.
Colombia is the second-largest Spanish-speaking country, with 99% of its population speaking Spanish. It is recognized by law as the country’s official language (Castellano, another term for the language) and is spoken alongside 68 other languages. Spain is Europe’s largest and the world’s third-largest Hispanic country, with about 47 million Spanish speakers. It is the only official language at the national level and co-official in some regions. The language originated from and was named after Spain.
Besides Mexico, Spanish is a de facto official language in four other countries: Argentina, Chile, Nicaragua, and Uruguay. In Argentina, Spanish is the main language spoken by almost everyone, sometimes alongside other foreign and native languages including English, Italian, and Yiddish. In Chile, Nicaragua, and Uruguay, Spanish is spoken throughout but not recognized by law as the official language.
Equatorial Guinea is the only African country where Spanish is an official language recognized by law. Spanish holds official status alongside Portuguese and French at the national level. About 67% of the country’s population speaks or understands the language. Other countries where Spanish is, by law, an official language include Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Paraguay, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Venezuela, and Peru. In Paraguay, Spanish is one of the two recognized official languages (the other is Guaraní). Bolivia uses Spanish and several other indigenous languages as official languages at the national level.
Other Countries With Significant Population Of Spanish Speakers
Although Spanish is the official language of Spain, Equatorial Guinea, and Hispanic American countries, it is spoken regularly by a significant proportion of the populations in other countries.
The US has the world’s fifth-largest native Spanish population after Mexico, Colombia, Spain, and Argentina. Spanish is a native language to about 41 million people, and at least 14 million more use it as a second language, making it the country's second-most spoken language after English. With over 50 million speakers, the US is home to the world’s second-largest Spanish speakers after Mexico. It is the country’s second-most studied language after English, with over five million students.
Spanish was brought into the country by Spanish colonizers in the 15th century. Currently, it is a popular language in California, Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. In California, government documents and forms are often bilingual in Spanish and English, though English is the state’s official language. Apart from these states, Spanish is also widely spoken in Puerto Rico, where it is one of the two official languages (the other official language being English). The American territory was under Spanish rule for about 400 years before becoming a US possession in 1898.
Spanish has no official status in Belize, yet it is surrounded by other countries where the majority overwhelmingly speak the language. Although English is the country’s official language, Spanish, alongside Kriol, is spoken by a sizeable number of people, either as a first or second language. According to the 2010 census, 30% of the population consider Spanish as their native language, while another 50% can understand the language. All told, about 56.6% of Belizeans speak Spanish. It is the most popular language in Orange Walk, Cayo, and Corozal districts.
Andorra is located on the Iberian Peninsula and neighbors Spain, one of the world’s largest Spanish-speaking countries. As such, there is a significant portion of Spanish speakers in the country. Although Catalan, also derived from Vulgar Latin, is Andorra’s official language, Spanish is the second most spoken language. Spanish is spoken by about 43% of the population, most of which are Spanish immigrants. The language’s popularity in the country and its use as a Lingua franca forced the government to promote Catalan’s universal and general use.
Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory located on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula. It is bordered by Spain and hosts some Spanish immigrants. English is Gibraltar’s official language because of its status as a British territory. However, Spanish is also widely spoken and used on some official documents. It is one of the languages used by the media and has also been included in the education system.
*: Puerto Rico is a dependency of the US and therefore is not a country.