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Why Study Spanish: Its History Has Made it Widespread Today

By Jon, published on 20/02/2018 Blog > Languages > Spanish > How the History of Spanish Has Led to its Modern Day Popularity

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 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.

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.

Where are the best places to learn Spanish? Spanish is even spoken in some of the most remote parts of South America. (Source: pixabay.com)

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

  • The Philippines

  • 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.

 Why Learn Spanish: It is the Second Most Spoken Language in the World

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 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 which ever 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.

How many people speak Spanish? Due to the number of Spanish speakers around the world, you won’t need a microphone to be heard by one of them. (Source: skitterphoto.com)

Put simply, it is quite easy to learn Spanish nowadays in Spanish classes or in a country where Spanish is spoken. After all, Spanish is the second most popular language in the world!

Mandarin Chinese is the most popular with 1.35 billion speakers whereas Spanish has 1.175 billion speakers: 440 million speak the language as their mother tongue, 400 million as their second language, and 335 million people speak it as a foreign language. Not bad!

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 anymore 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 due to its Global Expansion

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.

Where is Spanish spoken in the world? Many cities around the world have sizeable Spanish speaking populations. (Source: Elvis Vasquez)

The dominance of the Spanish language can also been 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, sciene, and literature. So if you where still debating ‘why study Spanish?’, perhaps now is the time to stop debating and start learning!

Learning Spanish can also be done in school. It is taught in many schools 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.

How much do private Spanish tutorials cost? You should pay more attention in your Spanish classes. (Source: pixabay.com)

Spanish at school is rarely enough to speak Spanish fluently. Outside of school, you can learn 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.


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