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What are the Main Spanish Speaking Countries?

Learn More About the Spanish Speaking Countries

Spanish is estimated to have around 427 million native speakers around the world, making it the second most widely-spoken native language globally, behind Mandarin and ahead of English. Additionally, around 470 million people have native competence, while 560 million people speak Spanish as either a first or second language. In total, Spanish is the majority language in 21 different sovereign countries and is a commonly utilised language in several more.

It is also the most popular second language learned by residents of the United States, according to the Modern Language Association of America, with significantly more students than French, which is in second place. Furthermore, the Spanish language is recognised as one of the six official languages of the United Nations, and is also an official language for several other institutions, including the European Union, the World Trade Organization, the Organization of American States and the international soccer governing body, FIFA.

What are the Main Spanish Speaking Countries?

Spanish has its origins in the Castile region of Spain, which is why it is sometimes referred to as Castilian, or castellano. It stands to reason, therefore, that Spain is the country most closely associated with the language. Nonetheless, Mexico is actually the largest Spanish-speaking country, with 113 million native speakers. In fact, with approximately 47 million native Spanish speakers, Colombia also ranks ahead of Spain, which sits in third place with around 40 million native speakers. It is important to note that Spanish is not the mother tongue of 18 percent of Spain’s total population, due to the prevalence of regional languages like Basque and Catalan. Some of the other notable countries with Spanish as their primary or national language include Argentina, which has a Spanish-speaking population of around 40 million, and Venezuela, where almost 30 million people speak Spanish as their mother tongue. Spanish is also the first language of around 7 percent of the entire European Union.

Interestingly, Spanish is the native language of more than 13 percent of the total U.S. population, amounting to around 39 million people. When combined with those who speak Spanish as a second language, the U.S. has in excess of 50 million Spanish speakers in total, making it the second largest Spanish speaking country in the world.

Overview of Spanish Speaking Countries

As previously mentioned, Spanish is the official language or national language of 21 different sovereign states. In each of these 21 countries, Spanish is the most prominent language spoken by residents, is taught through the education system and is the primary language for official government communications. Listed below are all of the countries where Spanish is the official language and where there are at least 5 million native Spanish speakers. The countries have been sorted into order, beginning with the country with the highest number of native speakers, and ending with the country with the lowest number of native speakers. Countries with Spanish as an official language:

  • Mexico (113 million native speakers)
  • Colombia (47 million native speakers)
  • Spain (40 million native speakers)
  • Argentina (40 million native speakers)
  • Venezuela (30 million native speakers)
  • Peru (26 million native speakers)
  • Chile (18 million native speakers)
  • Ecuador (14 million native speakers)
  • Cuba (11 million native speakers)
  • Guatemala (10 million native speakers)
  • Dominican Republic (9 million native speakers)
  • Honduras (8 million native speakers)
  • Bolivia (6 million native speakers)
  • El Salvador (6 million native speakers)
  • Nicaragua (5 million native speakers)

How Spanish Spread Around the World

The Spanish language emerged in the Iberian Peninsula after the fall of the Roman Empire, evolving from spoken Latin. Originally limited to northern and central Spain, a written standard was developed in Toledo and Madrid between the 13th and 16th centuries and this was then carried south during the period known as the Reconquista. During the 16th century, Spanish colonialism brought the language to Mexico, Central America and parts of South America and many of these countries continue to speak Spanish as their primary language today. It was also introduced to places like the the Philippines and Guam, although few people in those countries still speak Spanish.

Throughout the 19th century, many of the Spanish colonies gained independence, but their governments made Spanish their official language in order to build national unity. The century also saw widespread immigration into these areas from Europe, and these immigrants were encouraged to learn Spanish in order to fully integrate. As a result of the Spanish-American War, the United States gained control of Puerto Rico, but its population continued to speak Spanish. Over the course of the 20th century, millions of Puerto Ricans moved to the United Stated and this, combined with Mexican immigration, brought the language to the U.S. mainland.

Today, Spanish is unofficially recognised as the United States’ second language and is recognised as a de facto official language in the state of New Mexico. Moreover, the language is increasingly accepted in official documents and even has usage within certain areas of U.S. politics.