You may not know this, but Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world, by the number of native speakers, behind only Mandarin Chinese. This means that there are more people who speak Spanish as their first language than those whose mother tongue is English.
There are 20 different Spanish speaking countries around the globe that use Spanish as an official language, account for around 440 million native speakers. Spanish is even one of the UN'S six official languages. The importance of Spanish is obvious, and anyone who can improve their skills in this language will set themselves apart from the crowd. You don't need to necessarily be fluent. Even having a conversational level would be an asset.
The benefits of learning Spanish are becoming more and more apparent, and it is, therefore, no surprise that it is increasing in popularity around the world.
But how did Spanish come to take on such important, and why is it so widely spoken? How did it become the world’s second most spoken language by the number of native speakers?
The history of the Spanish language is a fascinating tale that dates back hundreds of years. In this article, we will look at how the history of Spanish has shaped its standing as one of the main languages in the world today.
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Why Is Spanish So Widely Spoken?
There are a number of reasons to learn Spanish, and there are also a number of reasons as to why it has spread. In general, languages tend to spread in the same way. Sometimes people migrate and take their languages, cultures, and customs with them. However, this isn't usually a phenomenon that leads a language to spread to every corner of the globe.
Throughout history, a number of languages have been spread through religions. Latin, for example, was spoken across Europe when it was used for Catholic masses. There are also a lot of countries that speak Arabic thanks to it being the language of Islam and the Quran.
A language also spreads when it's used in a particular field. Italian was used as the language of music since most of the great composers were writing in it. French was popular as the language of science for a while, too.
When it comes to business and tourism, English is commonly used all over the world as a de facto language. This is why most people around the world learn it as their second language. But having said this, learning business Spanish is on the rise too, thanks to the international professional opportunities that available to Spanish speakers.
Another way that a language can spread is if it is forced upon a group of people through conquest. Historically speaking, when an area was invaded, the new leaders would impose their language on their new subjects.
So how did Spanish come to be spoken in so many different places around the world? This is a question that both historians and linguists have been interested in answering over the centuries. To answer this question, of all the reasons mentioned before, we could simplify them down to word of mouth. You could say that languages are spread by people talking to one another.
If you want to delve even further, you could say there were two ways the Spanish language spread: through conquest, and through writing. War and culture. Territorial and literary expansion.
These are the two things which the Spanish have excelled at over the years. Put simply, this is why so many people around the world speak Spanish. Let’s have a look back in time.
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The history of the Spanish language is a long and complex one. It is derived from Latin and came about some time between the 8th and 9th centuries. Let’s have a look at some of the events over the years that formed the language, its grammar, conjugations, and vocabulary.
We’ll start with a period of time that goes from the end of the Reconquista (when Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabel I of Castile took the Iberian peninsula back from the Muslims) to Christopher Columbus and Spanish explorers’ expeditions to the New World. It was during the 16th century that the Spanish empire expanded across the world to places such as:
Peru (Viceroyalty of Peru)
Mexico and many places in Central America (a region which was known as New Spain)
The Viceroyalty of New Granada: Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Venezuela, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago
Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata: Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, and parts of Chile and Brazil
Guam, the Mariana Islands, and the Caroline Islands.
This was the Golden Age for the expansion of the Spanish language, and if you want to know where Spanish is spoken, then these are the places that use it as an official language today.
In 1714, the Borbons made Spanish the country’s only language. Between 1726 and 1739, Spanish dictionaries were edited and published around the Spanish-speaking world. Local populations also helped to create creoles and spread the Spanish language and after various wars of independence, Spanish was spoken across most of the Americas by the 19th century.
Spanish also spread to Africa during the 18th and 19th centuries, to places such as Equatorial Guinea and Western Sahara.
Finally, Spanish culture also helped the Spanish language become one of the most spoken in the world. There are plenty of famous Spanish speakers including: El Greco, Francisco Goya, Salvador Dali, Joan Miro, Pablo Picasso, and Antoni Gaudi. Music (flamenco, salsa, reggaeton, bachata, etc.), cinema (Almódovar, Bunuel), and sport (football in particular with teams such as Real Madrid and Barcelona) have all also helped contribute to Spanish’s popularity in the modern era.
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What Should We Know About Spanish?
Understanding The Different Languages That Make Up Spanish
As you know, Spanish, as we know it today, is the official language of Spain where it’s known as “Castillian” (Castellano). Catalan, Basque, and Galician are also official languages in various regions in Spain. This means that Spanish isn't always the only language used to teach students in Spanish schools, and Spanish vocabulary isn't always the only vocabulary that the students learn. This might change depending on the part of Spain that you are in.
When it comes to Castillian Spanish, it has its own distinct vocabulary, expressions, accent, conjugations, pronunciation, and grammar. This is all thanks to the history it shares with Spain as a country.
However, learning all of this can be done quite easily in the modern age. You’ll quickly see how many English words (over half our vocabulary comes from Latin or French) have a lot in common with Spanish words. During your language learning, whether it is Spanish online or with a Spanish teacher, you will discover these words at regular intervals.
In regards to the different ways of learning Spanish, there are plenty. You can take free online Spanish classes, study Spanish at college, or partake in a Spanish language exchange program, for example. The latter is a great way to learn through immersion.
By going abroad to a Spanish speaking country, you will learn more about the language and culture of whichever Spanish speaking country that you choose, as well as improving your fluency. However, it should be noted that there are different advantages to all Spanish learning methods.
Put simply, it is quite easy to learn Spanish nowadays from Spanish lessons or in a country where Spanish is spoken. After all, Spanish is the second most popular language in the world!
It’s worth noting that Spanish is spoken in around 20 different countries as an official language, whereas Mandarin is only spoken in 4. English, French, and Arabic are the only other language to be so widely spread around the world.
If you needed any more reasons to learn Spanish at school, then this is it. Starting from a young age will put you ahead of the curve in a language whose utility is almost unparalleled.
The Benefits of Learning Spanish
There are so many advantages to learning a new language. On a very basic level, learning a foreign language allows us to travel more freely and easily, and having this added skill makes us more employable in the eyes of many different companies and organisations around the world.
When it comes to the Spanish language, this couldn't be truer. In fact, Spanish regularly features highly on lists of the most useful languages to learn, which is why recruiters love a Spanish speaker!
But developing your language skills in Spanish has a lot more different benefits and advantages than just learning business Spanish to enhance your career prospects.
See below our reasons for learning this dominant European language.
Its Global Influence
As we said earlier, the Spanish language spread through culture and conquest. These are probably the two most powerful ways to do it. You’ll probably learn more about this in your Spanish courses.
This expansion has given rise to the importance of the Spanish language on a global scale. Spanish is the second most spoken language in the U.S.A, and it featured on the British Council's languages for the future list.
In fact, there are now an estimated 29 countries in the world that have more than 1 million Spanish speakers. Discounting the countries where Spanish is an official language, this means that there are considerable populations of Spanish speakers in non-Spanish speaking countries around the world. This is another measure of the global expansion of the language of Cervantes, and just another reason why learning it is such an invaluable skill.
The dominance of the Spanish language can also be seen in the international recognition that its speakers have achieved on an international level.
For example, Spanish speaking countries boast a total of 24 Nobel Prize winners, including notable names from the world of literature, such as the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, and the Colombian novelist, Gabriel García Márquez.
What's more, there have been 52 Academy Awards given to citizens of Spanish speaking countries. Recipients include the Spaniards Pedro Almódovar, Javier Bardem, and Penelope Cruz, and the Mexicans Guillermo del Toro and Lupita Nyong'o.
There are very few other examples of such a spread by a language, which shows that the extent of the dominance that Spanish has come to have over very distinct areas, such as culture, science, and literature. So if you were still debating 'why study Spanish?', perhaps now is the time to stop debating and start learning!
It's A Beautiful Place To Visit
It would be a real shame if you never visited Spain. After all, Spain is one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations and there are plenty of flights to the country every day from all around the world.
There are a lot of reasons that so many people travel to Spain - for work or for holidays are just two examples. You could go to Madrid, Barcelona, or even Ibiza if you like partying. The list of great Spanish destinations goes on and on.
If you want to stay in Madrid or Barcelona, learning Spanish will make everything much easier. If you spend time in Spain having taken Spanish courses beforehand, you can use your conversational Spanish in order to gain a deeper understanding of both the Spanish language and culture.
In fact, your trip to Spain could even act as a sort of immersion course whereby you can practise and build on the Spanish that you have previously learnt. After all, the key to developing in any new language is practising, so where better to do this than in the country itself? You will improve your pronunciation by listening to the locals, and even learn some more Spanish words and phrases.
It Opens Up Opportunities To Visit Countries Outside Of Europe
While Spain is a big draw, some other countries are even more luxurious and inviting!
For example, Machu Picchu in Peru and Chichen Itza in Mexico are two of the new 7 wonders of the world, and Iguazu Falls in Argentina and the Amazon which straddles swathes of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and Brazil, are two of the 7 wonders of nature. And what do they share in common? You got it - they are Spanish-speaking regions!
Even outside of these well-established tourist destinations, locations such as the walled city of Cartagena in Colombia, the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador, and the ancient ruins at Tikal in Guatemala, are all worth a visit in their own right.
Okay, so fluency is not essential for this type of excursion, but being able to at least communicate with the Spanish speakers in these places will enhance your experience when you visit.
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It's A Great Place For Expats
Perhaps much later down the line, you might like to start thinking about retiring. Spanish speaking countries make up 4 of the top 5 destinations for retirees, and Malaysia, Portugal, and Malta are the only non-Hispanic countries in the top 10!
'The Local ES' website states that "Spain ranks as the best place in Europe for expats wanting to enjoy life, and second overall, just behind New Zealand. [...] Spain is renowned for its healthy Mediterranean diet full of fresh vegetables, fish and olive oil, maybe this contributes to its ranking as number one expat destination when it comes to health. It also has one of the highest life expectancies in the world."
Other huge advantages for retirees living in Spain is that "Spaniards are a friendly bunch, making Spain one of the best places in the world for expats to make friends." More importantly, the survey that this article is based on advises "making an effort to learn the local lingo, [as] it will make socializing with locals much easier."
If retirement isn’t currently on the horizon, there’s nothing stopping you visiting these countries. You might not want to come home after, though...
Learning Spanish At School
Apart from online Spanish lessons london, learning Spanish can also be done in school. It is taught in many educational establishments across the globe, and Spanish language courses are very popular in a lot of English-speaking countries.
From very young, a lot of students will learn some Spanish grammar and vocabulary during their time at school. Many will even study Don Quijote. So are there plenty of bilinguals because of this? Not really. This does mean, however, that you’ll have more opportunities to do exchange programs in Latin America or in Spain.
Spanish at school is rarely enough to speak Spanish fluently. Outside of school, students can build on their Spanish in a number of different ways:
In a language school
In a Spanish school
Spanish classes in Spain or another Spanish-speaking country
Spanish classes online
The Internet is also helping Spanish to spread around the world. In addition to this, Spanish-speaking culture is being spread through cinema, art, and music. We mustn't forget that there are a lot of Spanish websites and YouTube videos, too!
So if you want to work in a Spanish speaking country, utilise all of the resources that are available to you in order to ensure maximum success. In fact, thanks to such an array of resources that are now available at the click of a button, it has never been easier to learn the Spanish language.
Resources for Spanish Students
Becoming fluent in Spanish requires you to master speaking, reading, writing, and listening in the language. By listening to Spanish, you will not only improve your audio comprehension, but you will also improve your pronunciation by hearing to the correct way of saying words, as well as learning about how to formulate sentences by hearing the correct use of the grammar.
This means that listening to Spanish is a great way to improve your other competencies, and subsequently your overall Spanish level. But how can you go about listening to Spanish?
Podcasts For Learning Spanish
Podcasts allow you to become your own Spanish teacher and to study Spanish through a variety of mediums; tablets, Smartphones, laptops and computers.
You just have to subscribe to a channel or download recordings, and listen to them where and when you want (when on the train, out jogging, in the car, etc...), meaning that you can learn at your own pace.
News in Slow Spanish
This is definitely one of the best podcasts for learning the Spanish language.
It offers high-quality Spanish classes for beginner to advanced levels. This podcast allows you to listen to useful subjects and master Spanish vocabulary that covers a variety of themes, including:
So you’ll absorb a wealth of relevant information each week (which is a great help if you intend to travel to the country) all in a clear, simple and “slow” rhythm.
What’s more, on the website of the podcast, you can find vocabulary sheets and complete texts for each show available. This will be useful for going back and checking that you heard the right Spanish words and phrases.
Coffee Break Spanish
This is a podcast that offers 80 shows for beginner Spanish speakers, each between 15 and 20 minutes long. There are also some for more intermediate level speakers to improve their vocabulary and conversational Spanish.
This podcast is unique as it’s presented by two people: Kara, a student who is learning at the same time as you, and Mark, your teacher. This teacher/learner format is ideal language learning training and is particularly useful for children learning Spanish. The scenarios are also a lot more realistic because the set-up is so relevant.
Apps For Learning Spanish On The Go
DuoLingo: Learning While Having Fun
DuoLingo makes learning Spanish easy and fun. If you already have some experience of learning Spanish, you can take a placement test when you begin to see where to start, or you can simply start from the very beginning.
The idea is to have fun by answering questions and earning points by responding as quickly as possible to go to the next level.
Each lesson allows you to work on several aspects of the Spanish language, from pronunciation to listening and translation with instant correction.
What's more, for those of you who are looking for an app to learn Spanish, you should note that DuoLingo is available on your smartphone or tablet. So you could be learning Spanish whilst killing time on your commute to work, or at the departure gate whilst waiting to board your flight!