Spanish Grows to 500 million Native Speakers
According to the newly-released Cervantes Institute’s 2022 yearbook Spanish in the World, the number of native Spanish speakers has risen to nearly 500 million (496.5 million—up about three million from last year) and if non-native speakers are added, the figure is 595 million—up by four million from 2021.
At last month’s launch of the reports, Cervantes director Luis García Montero, said the new yearbook offered “optimistic data that commit us to work, but not to complacency,” and that its “interesting conclusions and contributions for the future” help us to “become aware of the importance of our language.”
The 440-page report (downloadable at https://cvc.cervantes.es/lengua/anuario/anuario_22/default.htm) provides numerous graphs outlining the demographics of Spanish in the world as well as in-depth reports on the state of Spanish in a selection of global areas, an analysis of the relationship between language and artificial intelligence (AI), which outlines the advantages that AI can bring to language teaching and assessment (collaborative learning, intelligent tutoring, automatic assessment, bullying prevention, etc.), as well as risks, such as addiction, disinformation, bias, invasion of privacy and manipulation.
The report is divided into the following sections:
I. SPANISH IN THE WORLD
The first section of the book, “Spanish: a living language. Informe 2022”, contains updated data on demographics, teaching and learning as a foreign language, the internet and social networks, economic influence, cultural activity, use in international organizations, scientific dissemination, etc.
The main data are:
More than 496 million people have Spanish as their mother tongue (three million more than in 2021), 6.3% of the world’s population.
Potential users (native Spanish speakers plus limited proficiency users and foreign language learners) exceed 595 million (four million more than last year), which represents 7.5% of the world’s population.
Spanish is the second mother tongue in the world in terms of number of speakers, after Mandarin Chinese.
It is the fourth language in terms of global speakers (native proficiency + limited proficiency + learners), after English, Mandarin Chinese and Hindi.
The number of Spanish speakers will continue to grow over the next five decades, although its relative weight will gradually decrease between now and the end of the century.
In 2060, the United States will be the second largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, after Mexico. 27.5% of Americans will be of Hispanic origin.
Almost 24 million people (23,748,298) study Spanish as a foreign language. COVID-19 has led to a slight decrease in the number of learners, with the language tourism sector particularly hard hit, but the number of learners on self-directed learning websites is on the rise.
The US continues to be the country with the highest number of Spanish learners, three times the number of learners of all other languages combined.
Economic and commercial influence of Spanish
Spanish speakers have a combined purchasing power of 9% of the world’s GDP.
If the Hispanic community in the United States were an independent country, its economy would be the seventh largest in the world, ahead of Spain and France.
In the group of countries where Spanish is the official or majority language, 6.2% of the world’s GDP is generated.
It is the second most important language in the language tourism sector.
Spanish as an instrument of international communication
Spanish is the third most used language in the United Nations and the fourth in the European Union.
Almost 40% of Spanish students are in countries where English is an official or co-official language.
The study of Spanish is particularly intense in the two main English-speaking countries: the United States and the United Kingdom.
Spanish is the most widely used language in American and Latin American integration organizations.
Scientific dissemination in Spanish
After English, Spanish is the language in which the most scientific texts are published.
4.4% of scientific production originates in a Spanish-speaking country.
Almost 70 % of scientific documents in the Spanish-speaking world are published in Spain.
72% of scientific production in Spanish is divided between three main subject areas: social sciences (44%), medical sciences (15%) and arts and humanities (13%).
The Spanish language on the web
7.9% of Internet users communicate in Spanish, which is the third most used language on the Internet after English and Chinese.
More than 70 % of the population of Spanish-speaking countries has access to the Internet.
Only one Spanish-speaking country, Mexico, is among the top ten countries with the highest number of internet users.
On most digital platforms, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, Wikipedia, etc., Spanish is the second most used language.
US Hispanics prefer to consume and create digital content in Spanish rather than English.
In the United States, LinkedIn users are increasingly using Spanish as a professional asset outside the Spanish-speaking world.
Although the Spanish-speaking community is growing, the rate of growth has slowed, partly due to the excess deaths (more than 1.5 million) as a result of the pandemic.
The expansionary cycle for Spanish will end in the middle of the century: we must not “rely solely on demographics”, he said, but “generate valuable, quality content that is of interest to the non-Spanish-speaking world”.
II. LANGUAGE AND ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
The second section of the 2022 yearbook analyses the growing relationship between language and artificial intelligence (AI), and its importance in the fields of language teaching and evaluation, translation, and cultural dissemination.
It begins with a chapter by the Cervantes director entitled “Cautious reflections on artificial intelligence,” in which he introduces the subject of ethics in AI: he points out the profound change brought about by the digital transformation and the care with which we human beings, who are responsible for the functioning of machines, must act in order to take advantage of the great possibilities of technologies applied to linguistics, without forgetting the dangers of language manipulation.
García Montero advises that “we must take advantage of progress,” but be careful to ensure that it does not lead to inequalities, biases, and social gaps that “undermine the varieties of Spanish,” or “compromise democratic values.”
Other articles in this section are: “ The importance of ethics, and the social and cultural perspective, in the Spanish of machines”, by Idoia Salazar García; “From learning to teaching. Educando con inteligencia artificial”, by Miguel Rebollo Pedruelo; “ How machines speak Spanish: Achievements, challenges and opportunities for artificial intelligence applied to language”, by Elena González-Blanco García, Salvador Ros Muñoz and Víctor Fresno Fernández (UNED); “ The technology of language: artificial intelligence focused on language”, by German Rigau i Claramunt; and “The landing of artificial intelligence in machine translation: the revolution that is already here”, by Juan Alberto Alonso Martín.
III. INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS IN SPANISH
The third section of the book looks at the state of Spanish in five different geographical areas: Switzerland (with a note on Liechtenstein), the Balkans (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia), the United Arab Emirates, Kenya and Madagascar.
The book closes with an article on the implementation of Spanish language (Ladino) tests to obtain Spanish nationality for Sephardim, and updated information on the presence of the Instituto Cervantes in the world.
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