Did you know Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world? That’s great news for Spanish learners: Not only is it a beautiful and vibrant language, but it’s a useful one to learn as well!
The Spanish language is so widespread that it’s rooted in a variety of different cultures and geographical regions, from Mexico to Spain and everywhere in between.
Below, we’ll discuss how many countries speak Spanish. We’ll also give you a snapshot of how Spanish spread and developed in different countries.
- How many countries speak Spanish?
- How many people speak Spanish in total?
- How did Spanish spread?
- How Spanish developed differently
How many countries speak Spanish?
Spanish, part of the Indo-European language family, is the official language of 20 countries and one US territory (Puerto Rico). Here’s how many people speak Spanish as a mother tongue in each of those countries:
- Argentina: 44.3 million
- Bolivia: 7.3 million
- Chile: 17.5 million
- Colombia: 51 million
- Costa Rica: 5 million
- Cuba: 11.2 million
- Dominican Republic: 10.9 million
- Ecuador: 16.5 million
- El Salvador: 6.2 million
- Equatorial Guinea: 1 million
- Guatemala: 11 million
- Honduras: 9.9 million
- Mexico: 116 million
- Nicaragua: 6.5 million
- Panama: 3 million
- Paraguay: 3.7 million
- Peru: 28.3 million
- Puerto Rico: 1.6 million
- Spain: 35 million
- Uruguay: 3.3 million
- Venezuela: 27 million
On top of this, Spanish is partly spoken as a first language by residents of an additional 13 countries:
- Andorra: 35,000
- Aruba: 15,000
- Belize: 184,000
- Canada: 497,000
- Caribbean Netherlands: 3,000
- Cayman Islands: 3,000
- Curaçao: 6,000
- Falkland Islands: 300
- France: 271,000
- Sweden: 62,000
- Switzerland: 96,000
- United States: 35.5 million
- Virgin Islands: 18,000
How many people speak Spanish in total?
In addition to the first-language speakers we mentioned above, if you include second-language speakers, close to 560 million people speak Spanish worldwide. And, as you can see, Spanish isn’t only confined to Spain, Latin America and Mexico. In fact, if you combine first- and second-language speakers, the United States has the second-largest number of Spanish speakers in the world after Mexico (somewhere close to 50 million people).
How did Spanish spread?
Up until the end of the 1400s, Spanish—also known as Castilian after the Castile region of Spain where Spanish originated—was spoken on the Iberian Peninsula (today’s Spain). With the explorers’ voyages that took place in the late 1400s and the 1500s, the language began to spread. Through the violent conquests of explorers such as Christopher Columbus, Hernán Cortés and Ferdinand Magellan, the Spanish language, as well as Christianity, was established in areas like Latin America (minus Brazil) and Mexico.
How Spanish developed differently
Latin American and Mexican Spanish are derived from Castilian; however, each region has its own distinct elements. Let’s have a look at a few of the interesting differences in the way Latin American and Mexican Spanish pronunciation evolved from the original Castilian dialect.
/s/ vs. /th/
One thing that’s common in Spain that differs in Mexico and Latin American countries is the use of a /th/ sound in place of an /s/ sound when pronouncing words that begin with a “z” or “c” followed by an “e” or “i.” For example, a Latin American Spanish speaker would pronounce “Barcelona” as “Barselona” whereas someone from Spain would say “Barthelona.”
/y/ vs. /sh/
Another unique difference is that, in Spain, the “ll” sound is pronounced like a “y.” In a few other countries, such as Argentina, that same “ll” is pronounced more like “sh.” So, for instance, llamas would be pronounced “shamas” in Argentina.
In some cases, Latin American speakers also omit the “d” sound at the end of certain words or when it occurs between vowels. So, the word pescado would be pronounced “pescao.”
Spanish: A worthwhile language to learn
Now you know how many countries in the world speak Spanish. With such widespread use, learning Spanish is a fantastic idea. You can visit all the countries that speak Spanish and experience the diverse array of Spanish-influenced places and cultures.
Andrea is a Canadian freelance writer and editor specializing in English, e-learning, EdTech, and SaaS. She has a background as an ESL teacher in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. In her free time, Andrea loves hanging out with her husband and children, creating recipes in the kitchen, and reading fiction. She also loves camping and jumping into lakes whenever possible. Learn more about Andrea on LinkedIn or check out her website.