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The beautiful Spanish language has the second largest number of native speakers worldwide. While now you have to travel far and wide to discover all the Spanish-speaking countries in the world, things were different a few centuries back. From just a dialect in the 9th century, Spanish is now one of the most widespread languages on Earth. So where exactly is Spanish an official language?
Without further ado, let’s dive in and uncover the full list of Spanish-speaking countries. While we’re at it, we’ll also look into the history behind the expansion of the Spanish language and how many people speak Spanish today.
How many people speak Spanish?
As of 2022, 548 million people speak Spanish worldwide. This number includes both native and non-native speakers. However, the ‘unofficial’ number could be bigger than that.
If you think about it, there are people who just started learning Spanish and people who learned Spanish for a while and then stopped. These individuals are known as partial speakers. While they don’t speak Spanish perfectly, some of them are able to get around quite easily. This is why it’s safe to round the total number of Spanish speakers worldwide to 550 million.
This high number puts Spanish in fourth place in the top most spoken languages in the world following English, Mandarin Chinese and Hindi.
However, when it comes to the languages with the most native speakers, Spanish occupies an incredible second spot (following Mandarin Chinese) – and rightfully so! The total number of people who speak Spanish as a native language is 475 million – according to the latest data from Ethnologue.
Thanks to its ever-growing notoriety, Spanish is the third most studied language in the world, after English and French.
Now just imagine how many new friends you could make if you started learning Spanish now!
List of Spanish-speaking countries
Formally, Spanish is the official language of 20 countries and one dependent territory: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Spain, Uruguay, Venezuela and Puerto Rico.
It should be noted that this list includes Equatorial Guinea, where Spanish is official but not a native language.
To make sure we’re on the same page, let’s swiftly define what makes a country ‘Spanish-speaking’. A ‘Spanish-speaking country’ is a country where Spanish is the official language. For example, many people speak Spanish in the United States. In fact, Spanish is the second most spoken language here. However, the US can’t be considered a Spanish-speaking country because Spanish is not an official language here. While it stands to reason, it’s crucial to make this difference.
In addition to the 20 countries, Spanish is also the official language of several international organizations. These include the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization of American States, the Union of South American Nations, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, the African Union and many other international organizations.
Now let’s go into a little more detail and split the countries into continents.
Spanish-speaking countries in South America
Since the Americas boast the highest number of Spanish-speaking countries in the world, we figured it’s best to start our exploration in South America. Out of the thirteen countries in the South American continent, nine are Spanish speaking. This means there are more Spanish-speaking countries here than anywhere else in the world.
Here are the Spanish-speaking countries of South America and their respective percentages of the population who speak Spanish:
- Argentina — 98%
- Bolivia — 83%
- Chile — 96%
- Colombia — 99%
- Ecuador — 96%
- Paraguay — 68%
- Peru — 87%
- Uruguay — 98%
- Venezuela — 97%
Spanish-speaking countries in Central America
Out of the seven countries in Central America, only Belize doesn’t have Spanish as its official language. However, the majority of the Belizeans can speak Spanish. Thus, if you’re planning a trip to Central America, speaking Spanish will definitely come in handy.
- Costa Rica —99%
- El Salvador — 100% (99,7 to be precise)
- Guatemala — 78%
- Honduras — 99%
- Nicaragua — 97%
- Panama — 92%
* the number represents the percentage of the population who speak Spanish.
Spanish-speaking countries in North America
Considering that the Spanish language came here from Europe a few centuries back, it’s fascinating that Mexico is the world’s most populous Hispanophone country. In addition to Spanish, the Mexican government recognizes 68 national languages, 63 of which are indigenous. Examples include Nahuatl, Yucatec Maya, Zapotec, Mixtec, Mayo, Yaqui, Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Chol, Totonac, Purépecha and more.
- Mexico — 97% (percentage of the entire population speaking Spanish)
Spanish-speaking countries in the Caribbean
If Mexico is the country with the most Spanish speakers in the world, Cuba is the country with the largest proportion of Spanish speakers in the world.
- Cuba — 100% (99,8 to be precise)
- Dominican Republic — 98%
- Puerto Rico — 99%
Spanish-speaking countries in Europe
We’re finally almost at the end of our exploration with Spain: the home country of the Spanish language. It’s truly surprising how few people speak Spanish here! The reason for this is that a significant number of people in Spain speak Catalan.
- Spain — 92% (percentage of the entire population speaking Spanish)
Spanish-speaking countries in Africa
The one and only Spanish-speaking country in Africa is Equatorial Guinea. While unexpected, a bit of history reading will reveal that Equatorial Guinea was a Spanish colony, hence the official status of the language all the way here.
- Equatorial Guinea — 74% (percentage of the entire population speaking Spanish)
Countries where Spanish is spoken although it’s not an official language
Spanish is spoken in many countries around the world, although it is not an official language in all of them. Naturally, there can be a number of reasons why this happens.
One reason is that Spain was once a very powerful empire and its influence can still be seen in many parts of the world. Another reason is that many people from Spanish-speaking countries have migrated and brought their language with them. Probably the best example is the United States where more than 41 million people speak Spanish as a native language.
Other countries with large minorities of Spanish speakers are Belize, the Philippines (Spanish was an official language here from 1565 to 1973), Gibraltar and Andorra.
A brief history of the Spanish language
If you want to understand how did the Spanish language become so widespread, you’ll have to turn to history.
Traveling back in time a few centuries, we meet Christopher Columbus. The explorer made four trips across the Atlantic Ocean from Spain determined to find a direct route to Asia. Instead, he discovered the Americas. As a result of his unintended discovery, the Spanish language spread throughout the New World.
In the following century, the Spanish conquistadors arrived on American coasts together with their language. In addition, Catholic missionaries brought Latin, the language of the Catholic Church. Many of them found it easier to spread understanding and faith in native languages than in Latin, which was generally believed to be appropriate for conversion purposes. Thus, Latin, Spanish, and the languages of the native populations were all used simultaneously during the Spanish conquest of the Americas.
Naturally, this mix of languages gradually created new forms of Spanish that were unique to the New World. Hence, these dialectical versions of Spanish were the official languages of the conquered populations by the time they had freed themselves from Spanish rule in the 19th century.
Like English and French, Spanish became so widespread thanks to its colonial empire. With its maximum extent in the 18th century, the Spanish empire became the first one to be known as “the empire on which the sun never sets”.
And that’s the short story of how Spanish became so widespread throughout the world.
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