usa-map-1172863-639x438According to the U.S. Census, approximately 38.3 million people in the U.S. spoke Spanish at home (in 2012): 13 percent of U.S. residents ages 5 and older. That’s a lot of people! English-speaking people use Spanish words on a daily basis (words like “cafeteria,” “vanilla,” or “ranch” are derived from Spanish and the names of many of our states and cities are Spanish) and, of course, Spanish is the most-spoken language on the island of Puerto Rico. But do you really want to know the Spanish language’s roots in the United States? Keep reading!

First of all, The United States doesn’t have an official national language (English is not the official language), yet 31 states have laws establishing English as their official tongue, according to the CIA World Factbook. But, remember: no such legislation has been adopted on a federal level.

OK, so let’s find out why Spanish was the first European language spoken in USA: Spanish arrived in St. Augustine (‘San Agustín’ in Spanish, after the saint), in 1565. That was well before the British landed in North America. Founded in 1565, St. Augustine is regarded as the United States’ oldest continuously occupied settlement of European origin. It was founded by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, a conquistador from Spain.  The British and the French didn’t arrive until later and the Portuguese were occupying other lands.

English is the dominant language across the states and Spanish the second-most common (38.3 million people). Chinese follows, spoken by more than 2.8 million people. And while there is no definitive data, the Census Bureau estimates there are more than 300 languages spoken in the United States.

By state the highest concentration is in the former Spanish colonies of the south and south-west, with New Mexico top at 47%, followed by California and Texas (both 38%) and Arizona (30%). Some 18% of New Yorkers speak Spanish while only 1.3% of West Virginians do. Perhaps surprisingly, more than 6% of Alaskans are Spanish speakers.

The Instituto Cervantes was established in 1991 to promote the Spanish language abroad and last year had more than 200,000 students registered on its courses. It estimates that 21 million people are currently studying Spanish and here, too, the US leads with 7.8 million learning the language, followed by Brazil and France.

The Index of Human Development ranks Spanish as the second most important language on earth, behind English but ahead of Mandarin. It is also the third most widely used language on the internet, although less than 8% of internet traffic is in Spanish. The report says that Spanish is the second most used language on Twitter in London and New York. It also comes second on Facebook, a long way behind English though well ahead of Portuguese, Facebook’s third language.

Do you need more reasons to start learning Spanish? So, go ahead and request a free trial class (20 minutes)! “Spanish is in the air…”, as the song by John Paul Young says.

¡Feliz miércoles!

Images (USA map /St. Augustine’s lighthouse): Ben VanderVeen and Jason Weimer by