The growth of Spanish in the United States and its consolidation as the country’s second language
Updated: Apr 20
There is no doubt that in recent years the use of the Spanish language in the United States has grown up exponentially. Even a short visit for a few days to one of the countries most famous cities, like San Francisco and Los Angeles in California, or even New York, is enough to listen the use of Spanish during the everyday life of a big part of its inhabitants.
The main reason for this is clear, the strong demographic pressure the Hispanic speaking community, especially from Mexico but also form other Spanish speaking countries of Central and South America, exerts over the total population of the whole country, either English speaker or native of other world languages. The Hispanic community is the first ethnic minority group in the USA, even bigger than the African American population.
The forecast in the growth of the Hispanic community in the United States for the next decades shows a very impressive picture. If nowadays more than 48 million people speak Spanish out of the 327 million total population, it is considered that this number will reach 119 million in 2060 according to the projected Census Bureau. In percentage that means an increase of the proportion they represent from 15% to approximately 30%, that is almost one third of the whole country.
These numbers projected mean that the USA will become the country with the world’s biggest Spanish speaking population overcoming Mexico, a first language Spanish speaking country with a current census of 112 million people. Far behind are Colombia or Spain, with 48 and 47 million inhabitants respectively.
But also the English speaking population in the United States shows a very big interest in learning Spanish as a second language. According to the reports of the Modern Language Association, in the last official records of 2016 Spanish was the first second language studied in higher educations institutions across the country, with around 710,000 students. French is found in second place with 175,000 students, only one fourth of that number of students for Spanish. For a reference, Mandarin enjoys the fifth position in the ranking of foreign languages studied in higher education, with around 53,000 students.
But there are authors that are not so overwhelmed by the numbers and predict a less drastic growth of Spanish. The reason they mention is the already observed theory of the third generation, that takes into account the decrease in the use of the inherited language by the second and third generation of a family after being settled in a country where the language they use at home is not the dominant one in other contexts.
Although it is true that the growth of a second language in a country cannot be only based on the demographic pressure of immigration, there are also some other reasons that support the increasing importance role that Spanish will play in the United States in the near future. And among those, the fact that bilingual professionals are more competitive in a very ambitious labour market, what is already reflected in the differences in salary of those ones compared to the less favoured employees that only speak English.
Also many experts have seen in the opening of the country to foreign languages, and specially to Spanish, one of the biggest opportunities to keep fighting for the position of the first world economy. As a consequence many initiatives are arising along the country, and especially in the most ambitious and developed states and cities like New York, for improving the communication skills of their native English speaking population but also that ones of the heritage Spanish speaking students. The Spanish Ministry of Education in behind this initiative, aiming the development of new bilingual schools and the increase of its number. No need to say that among the bilingual schools the most popular ones are those for English and Spanish.