LATEST data about the Spanish language reveal that it has the second-highest number of native speakers in the world, beaten only by Mandarin Chinese.
The Cervantes Institute, Spain's official language standardisation body, says 470 million people in the world speak Spanish as their first, or mother tongue – and once those who speak it as a foreign language, from learners to the most fluent, are added, the total comes to nearly 559 million on the planet.
Although English is the most-used language in terms of distribution, it is the only one in the world with fewer native speakers than people who speak it as a foreign tongue.
Spanish is second in terms of distribution, but Chinese and Hindi, in that order, remain the languages with the highest number of speakers, most of them native.
English is still the most-used language on the internet, followed by Chinese and then Spanish, but on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, Spanish is second behind English.
And although those who have at least a working knowledge of English still outnumber those with this level or higher in Spanish, the latter is growing faster than any other language in the world.
World demographics mean Spanish as a native language is growing, whilst English and Chinese are declining – within less than a generation, it is likely Spanish will overtake both, as a native and a second language.
Fastest-growing online language
Over 21 million people worldwide are currently actively studying Spanish, either at school, college or evening classes, or via home study means, on a serious basis.
At present, 6.7% of the world speaks Spanish – way ahead of Russian, with 2.2%, or French and German, at 1.1% each – but by the year 2030 it is estimated that 7.5% of the planet's population will be able to understand and effectively communicate in Spanish.
Within three to four generations, at least one in 10 people on Earth will be able to speak and understand the language.
Already, 7.9% of internet communication is in Spanish, having increased by over 1,100% between the years 2000 and 2013.
And in big cities where the official language is English – such as London and New York – Spanish is the most-used foreign tongue online, particularly on Twitter.
Whilst the rise in Spanish speakers and increase in its use is more thanks to the 19 Latin American countries where it is the official language – countries where the birth rate continues to be higher than needed for 'population renewal' – other demographic factors come into play.
Migration breeds more speakers
Mexican, Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants in particular have been settling in the USA for generations, to the extent where entire services exist in Spanish and, in some areas, the population is so prolific that State governors have been lobbied to make Spanish a co-official language – or even an official tongue on the same level as English.
And Spain's popularity as a very mature tourism destination for northern Europeans, who continue to flock there to buy holiday homes or start a new life on the country's shores, means a rise in the number of new Spanish-speakers this century.
A second generation of expatriates from all over the world in Spain – including British – some of whom have recently reached adulthood, either educated in Spanish State schools or in private foreign-run centres where Spanish teaching is compulsory, means a new population of speakers has appeared in the last two decades or so.
Finally, as Spanish is recognised to be one of the easiest languages to learn – especially for those who speak other Latin-based tongues such as French, Italian, Portuguese or Romanian – it is often a preferred one to study.
But the Cervantes Institute has warned that standards are slipping.
Text messaging and poor education
The proliferation of text messaging and sites such as Twitter which limit the number of characters that can be used means abbreviations are overused.
Also, the Institute says education in Spain in particular is lacking, meaning poor spelling and grammar among natives.
Standards of language in Latin America are a different story altogether: in some countries, not all children go to school or finish their education, although in others, a private education is much more common than in Europe.
In Perú and Chile, any parent who can scrape up the money will automatically send his or her child to private school, since State schools are often underfunded, unsafe, or standards are exceptionally poor.
And elsewhere in Latin America, higher education is par for the course: university studies are free of charge in Cuba and continuing education into the 20s is almost automatic.