Spanish, a Romance language that originated in the Iberian peninsula, has today grown to be the second most commonly spoken native language, following Mandarin Chinese. Most of these speakers are spread out across Europe and the Americas, with quite a few speakers in certain Asian and African countries as well.
Overall, Spanish is the official language of more than 20 countries, and is the native tongue of almost 500 million speakers. It is also the third most learned language in the world, after English and French. Hence, Spanish can truly be termed to be a global language.
So, having some degree of familiarity or command over Spanish can take you places, literally, in many Spanish speaking countries.
Which nations in the world can be categorized as countries that speak Spanish? The language has a long and rich history, stretching from the Medieval Era to the age of colonization, right up to the modern day. And having a brief idea of this history will give you a bigger picture of Spanish speaking countries as well.
Here, we will be compiling not just a list of Spanish speaking countries, but also see how the spread of the language happened across at least three continents, and also take a look at the largest spanish-speaking countries. So, read on!
Where do people speak Spanish?
The Americas have the largest density of Spanish speaking people, with Mexico leading the race with 110 million people. Research suggests that the number of Spanish speakers have increased a whopping 233% since the 1980s (Pew Research Centre), and this is in the United States alone. The Cervantes Institute has predicted that, by 2050, the number of people in officially Spanish speaking countries will reach 750 million.
Not only one of the most popular languages to learn, Spanish is also very easy to pick up, understand, and speak and thanks to its rich literary tradition it has attracted the attention of scholars, translators, and other literature and film enthusiasts. So it is not surprising that in the age of technology and information, there are a plethora of platforms online that offer beginner, intermediary, and advanced Spanish courses for language enthusiasts.
Which is the country or continent with the most number of Spanish speakers?
Spanish-speaking countries list:
This list is quite varied, given the spread of the language across the world, thanks to colonization, migration, and other factors.
The Americas themselves are home to approximately 470 million speakers of Spanish. Here’s a breakdown in order:
- Mexico: ~110 to 120 million
- Colombia: ~49 million
- Argentina: ~44 million
- Peru: ~33 million
- Venezuela: ~32 million
- Chile: ~18 million
- Ecuador: ~17 million
- Guatemala: ~17 million
- Cuba: ~11 million
- Bolivia: ~11 million
- Dominican Republic: ~10.8 million
- Honduras: ~9 million
- Paraguay: ~7 million
- El Salvador: ~6 million
- Nicaragua: ~6 million
- Costa Rica: ~5 million
- Panama: ~4 million
- Uruguay: ~3 million
- Puerto Rico (US territory): ~3 million
Outside the Americas, in Europe, Spain has the most number of Spanish speakers, unsurprisingly, with more than 46 million speakers calling it their mother tongue.
The African nation of Equatorial Guinea has around a million speakers (amounts to 67% of the population).
The South East Asia country of the Philippines (named after King Philip of Spain) was a Spanish colony and until 1987, Spanish was a co-official language of the nation along with English. Around 548,000 people there are Spanish speakers, with 4000 considering it as their native language.
And, besides native speakers around the world, and people living in officially Spanish speaking nations, significant populations in the US, Belize (The Americas), Andorra and Gibraltar (Europe) speak and use the language commonly.
Given its sheer spread, Spanish holds the honor of being of the six official languages of the UNO, an official language of the EU, the Organization of American States, the Union of South American Nations, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, the African Union, as well as many other political and inter-country collaboration organizations.
A brief outline of the history of the Spanish Language and its spread through the known world
Here’s a breakdown, continent-wise, of the history and spread of the Spanish language.
Let’s start with the motherhood of the language first. The Spanish language, in its modern form, developed around the Medieval Era, or Middle Ages. Before that, Latin, the lingua franca of the Roman world, was the official language of Spain. However, post the arrival of Moors from North Africa (as well as the subsequent rise of the Islamic nation of Al Andalus), the culture and language of post-Roman Iberia saw a series of changes, including the rise of many Latin dialects, which had Arab and Celtic/Iberian loan words.
(Fun fact: The Moors were also responsible for the final form of the sport we now call bullfighting.)
A minor kingdom, known as Castile, gained prominence later, as it became the primary force behind the ‘Reconquista’ or the reconquest of Spain from the Arabs. In 1492, the same year when Spain sponsored the expeditions of one Christopher Columbus, after the Reconquest was completed with the fall of Granada, Thanks to this, Castilian became the official language of Spain, post standardization of the Spanish grammar by King Alfonso X.
This also led Spanish to be one of the earliest European languages to have a standard grammar. And, thanks to Moorish rule, it is also one of the few European languages with discernible Arab loan words (‘Azucar,’ the word for sugar, for example, comes from ‘Alsukar’ in Arabic).
Thanks to the later progress of Spain, and proximity to it, Spanish speakers can be found in Portugal, Gibraltar, and Andorra as well, besides Spain today.
Now, let’s set sail toward the West, ala Columbus, to reach the shores of the Americas. Thanks to political colonization by both the Spanish Crown and the Catholic Church, Spanish was systematically inculcated among various native populations.
However, this does not mean that all native languages were wiped out in the Americas, thanks to Spanish. The largest Spanish speaking countries, despite all being in the Americas, still have about 11 million people who speak their indigenous tongues even today.
But, even then, thanks to this linguistic diversity, Castilian never really cemented itself as the only kind of Spanish spoken in these countries, and there are many different dialects of Latin American Spanish even today, with local, idiomatic variations.
As a consequence of later colonization, Spanish never really found a strong footing in Africa. However, if you are a Spanish speaker, you can still visit the beautiful country of Equatorial Guinea, which boasts of volcanoes, rainforests, valleys, and of course, fellow Spanish speakers!
Originally a Portuguese colony, the nation was relinquished to Spain in 1778, which held sway until as recently as 1968. A consequence of this is the fact that the country has speakers of three major European languages: Spanish, Portuguese, and French.
With influences of indigenous languages, as well as the forced political isolation between 1968 and 1979 during the brutal dictatorial regime of Francisco Macías Nguema, Equatoguinean Spanish has developed in its own unique and independent way.
You will find influences of local dialects and accents, apart from French, Portuguese, and German, in this very diverse country. Equatoguinean Spanish is spoken and understood by 68% of the population.
This is the continent that has the least density of Spanish speaking people. The Philippines, colonized by the Spanish in the 16th century, had elites speaking the language with the intent to convert the local population. Despite Spanish being the most important language from then till the end of World War II, the fact that the US occupied the Philippines, combined with local nationalist sentiments, the number of Spanish speakers among Filipinos drastically fell.
Spanish was ousted as the official language of the country in 1987, however, in recent years, a resurgence of Spanish learning has occurred. Various other Filipino languages also borrow certain loan words from Spanish Tagalog: about 22 to 33% of words having Spanish origin. ‘Chavacano,’ a Filipino Creole tongue based on Spanish, is spoken by around 700,000 people.
Why should you invest in learning Spanish?
Irrespective of your native language, Spanish is a very forgiving language especially if you have a basic hold of English. And since it follows the Roman/Latin script, the same script of most major European languages, writing it is also going to be easier, compared to learning non-Latin scripts.
And if the rich diversity of the 20+ Spanish speaking countries, and all they have to offer are not enough, Spanish has a literary tradition stretching from Miguel de Cervantes, the father of the modern European novel, to the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa, Nobel laureates in Literature. Besides, if you are a cinephile or generally interested in art, learning Spanish will open new doors for you!
Lastly, with the FIFA World Cup 2022 coming, we don’t need to remind you how awesome the national teams of Spain and many other Latin American countries are!