Spanish is not only one of the largest and fastest-growing languages in the world, it’s also a very complex language group that requires a lot of thought for translation professionals.
You hear (and translation professionals write) a lot about how English has become the most popular ‘second language’ in the world, and how more people speak English as a second language than as a first. You also hear a lot about China and Mandarin or Cantonese and how those languages are becoming more and more important over the years.
And all that is true, but sometimes unfairly ignores what is perhaps the fastest-growing and most important language group in the world right now: Spanish. In all its many raucous, distinct forms, Spanish is a language on the move, in part due to its prominent place in the United States, where nearly 40 million people speak it natively – with a predicted growth to 100 million by the year 2050.
As with many facts of modern life, the roots of Spanish growth go back to terrible things done centuries ago. Spain was once the most powerful empire on the planet – and was poised to conquer and destroy England with the Spanish Armada. Spain was one of the most aggressive colonial powers and this empire spread the Spanish language far and wide. As a result Spanish is today spoken by about 400 million people as a first language worldwide, with about 60 million speaking it as a second language.
If you crunch those numbers, you see that 10% of the Spanish-speaking population lives in the United States, which is not only the most powerful country in the world militarily, but economically and culturally as well. The large Spanish-speaking population in the USA is due to that country’s famously open immigration policies and also the geographical proximity of poor Spanish-speaking countries – put simply, Spanish-speaking people seeking a better life find their way to the USA, legally or otherwise.
The Impact of Spanish
There are two curious things about Spanish-speakers to be addressed. One is the fact that unlike previous waves of immigrants into the USA, Spanish-speakers are not abandoning their language. While Irish, Italian, and other major immigrant groups entering the USA often lost their native language skills within a generation or two, Spanish speakers have a stronger tendency to still speak it at home.
The second interesting fact about Spanish is that it is not a single, monolithic language – there are many, many different flavours of Spanish. While people from Spain, Mexico, or The Dominican Republic might be able to understand each other, they are not speaking precisely the same language or dialect. And this complicates matters: Just as you wouldn’t use local Britishisms to try and communicate or sell to Americans, you can’t use something localised to Puerto Rico to sell or communicate with someone from Mexico.
All this makes Spanish not only one of the largest and fastest-growing language groups in the world, but also one of the most difficult to deal with. It takes a lot of thought and tact to make Spanish work for you in the world!
Image courtesy en.wikipedia.org