Spanish in New Century

Spanish in 21st century

The Spanish language has been growing virtually since the 16th century and its spread has not been halted by time. In the late 19th century, there were some 60 million Spanish speakers. Today there are nearly 600 million, which makes Spanish the world’s fourth language (after Chinese, English and Hindi) in terms of speakers. And the signs are that its ceiling has not yet been reached, nor will it in the coming 21st century.

Spanish is the official language of some twenty countries around the world and 1 of the three tongues habitually considered as official working languages by a multitude of international organizations.

Counting only the nations where it is the official language, Spanish speakers represent about 6%of the world’s population, whereas English speakers represent 8.9% and French speakers 1.8%. Equally significant is the fact that Spanish is spoken by 94% of the population of the countries where it is an official language, a figure that is much higher than those registered by French (34%) or English (27%).

The most prudent forecasts like those put forward in “Spanish in the World” , the Cervantes Institute’s annual report, predict that in 2050 there will be around 750 million Spanish speakers, once again counting only the countries where it is an official language. This therefore leaves out the Hispanics in the United States and all those who speak it as a second or third language, who would considerably swell the number if included.

There are few possessions more accessible, astonishing, complex and yet familiar than a language. Each one of us is the owner of a mysterious form which directly allows us to penetrate the chiaroscuro of a relationship, of aesthetic creation, of dreaming and working… Moreover, it is a possession acquired in the fascinating process of learning, of opening up to a world and naming reality.

A language is created by its speakers, its writers and its users. Spanish is a language molded by wanderers and emigrants, a tongue of many tongues, and therein lies one of the keys to its success.

Within its diversity, today’s Spanish is probably the most homogeneous of all the great international languages, which means it runs little risk of fragmentation. It is also a geographically compact language, since its speakers are concentrated above all on the American continent.

Spanish is a prestige language of the first order whose gifts to world culture include the creation of the modern novel, and which is dotted with exceptional masterpieces written by a varied collection of splendid writers. Its cultural dimension is one of the language’s greatest qualities.

It is now time for Spanish to take its place as an international language, a means of scientific and economic exchange, and a means of communication.

The development of Spanish into one of the world’s great vehicles for linguistic communication is the great challenge that now has to be faced. Much of the road has already been traveled since demographic weight, linguistic homogeneity (within an extraordinarily fertile diversity) and high cultural status are all of decisive help in attaining this goal.

Another aspect that needs to be taken into account is the decisive importance of Latin America, where nine out of every ten Spanish speakers live. The consolidation of democracy, development of economy and the opening of markets in the Latin American nations are essentials for the spread of Spanish throughout the world, and especially in the information society. For this reason, the Cervantes Institute works closely with all twenty or so Spanish speaking countries.

Without information, nothing in contemporary society exists. If Spanish is to be consolidated as an international prestige language, there are two requisites. The first is the need to make its presence more evident in the information society and particularly on the great electronic networks; and the second is the expansion of cultural industries overseas. There are two nations which hold the key to this international expansion: the United States and Brazil.

The information society lives off and depends on languages to such an extent that many technological breakthroughs are centered on human language. In their turn, languages stake their future on the arena of new technologies and information. After English, Spanish is the language with the largest number of daily news services on the Internet, and so the press is the decisive nucleus of the regular creation of texts in Spanish for the web. The conclusion speaks for itself: the future of the language lies in the media.

Now that its Cervantes Virtual Centre is already the leading thematic site for the Spanish language and culture on the Internet, the Cervantes Institute’s plan in the coming years is to update Spanish in the information society. Thanks to the sponsorship of Telefonica, intensive use is to be made of the resources offered by the new technologies in order to fill the information society, and in particular the Internet, with contents in Spanish.

The Institute, the most important organization devoted to promoting the Spanish language around the world has four essential aims which are to stimulate the promotion of the Spanish language, to serve as a vital platform for Spain’s cultural industries, to act as a world archetype and model for the training of teachers of Spanish as a second language, and to fill the information society and possibly its most dazzling metaphor, the Internet with Spanish-language contents.

The vitality and creativity of Spain and Latin American are bound to turn the language into a major economic resource, as it is already becoming today for the publishing, cinema and music industries. And one of the Cervantes Institute‘s greatest challenges is precisely the consolidation of its centers as platforms for launching Spain’s cultural industries, which thereby benefit from having space at their disposal in all the culturally prominent capital cities of the world.

The Cervantes Institute will continue its work in the conviction that the vital boost for the teaching, study and use of Spanish will come when its image is that of a language of the future, a worldwide language with an extraordinarily rich culture that is therefore both useful and necessary for the world of the 21st century.

I shall end by stating my conviction that Spanish and English will be the two great languages of international communication in the 21st century, which means that culture in Spanish will be privileged thanks largely to the language itself.


Humberto Lopez Morales, the secretary general of the Academies of the Spanish Language, believes that the Spanish language is in excellent health. The proof lies in the more than 600 million people who speak Spanish as a mother tongue, the growth of Spanish on the Internet, and the prospect of more and more Brazilians joining the Spanish-speaking community over the next few years as a result of the designation of Spanish as an obligatory subject at high schools in the states of Rio and Sao Paulo.

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