10 March 2020

20 Facts About Spanish Language and Culture You Didn’t Know


Spain may be the home of the Spanish language, but it has travelled widely and is particularly prevalent in the Americas. In fact, Spanish is either an official language or widely spoken along virtually the entire western coast of America, from Alaska to Argentina! (Canada is the only exception, where French is the continental European language of choice.)

Join us on a voyage of discovery via the Americas, continental Europe and even the Philippines to find out more about Spanish language and culture, including why Spanish could become an important language for business all over the world.

1. Spanish is spoken by millions of people around the world

The population of Spain may only be 46 million or so, but around 660 million people speak Spain’s romantic language to some degree. In case you are wondering where the rest of these people are, the answer is over the Atlantic – Mexico has the most Spanish language speakers (at around 120 million people), and Spanish is the predominant language of South America.

2. Spanish is spoken in 21 countries

Spanish is the majority language in 21 countries – including several South American countries, as well as Mexico, Cuba and, of course, Spain. South American examples include Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru.

3. Spanish is the British Council’s number-one ‘language for the future’

The British Council has identified the languages that will be important to the UK’s future growth and success, and Spanish is the number-one language on that list. With all four main romance languages in the top 10, learning a little Spanish (or French, Italian or Portuguese) could open some interesting doors in the future.

4. Spanish spread to the Americas as far back as 1492

Spanish colonisation of Mexico, Central America and western and southern South American countries is the reason why Spanish became the language of such a large part of the Americas. It is also widely spoken in the United States – over 40 million US residents (13.4% of the population) speak Spanish!

5. Learning Spanish gives you a head start for learning the other romance languages

The romance languages, derived from Latin origins, all share similarities, so if you are fluent in one, you may find that you can quickly get to grips with one or more of the others. If you are learning any one of these languages (Spanish, French, Portuguese or Italian), you could find yourself confidently conversing in one of the others before you know it!

6. Spanish may be spoken by over 25% of the US population by 2060

The US Census Bureau predicts that by 2060, 28.6% of the population (119 million people) will be of Hispanic or Latino origin. Hispanics are already the largest minority in the US. If these projected figures become a reality, Spanish could become an increasingly common language in the US – and it may be spoken by around a quarter of the population!

7. Today’s Spanish tapas may have evolved from a simple sherry protector

The origin of tapas is still hotly contested, but the most popular story suggests that the word ‘tapas’ is derived from ‘tapar’ (meaning ‘to cover’). Apparently, thin slices of cheese, meat or bread were placed over a glass of sherry to protect it from fruit flies (drawn in by the sweetness of the sherry). Over time, this evolved into serving drinks with small portions of food (as simple as a few olives or as complex as marinated chorizo with mushrooms), and tapas bars are now popular all over Spain. You can probably find a tapas restaurant within a few miles across much of the UK too – but they might offer tapas as part of a more formal sharing meal.

8. Spanish is set to grow in popularity all around the world

Spanish is one of the hottest global languages to learn. In 2017, the Spanish government’s Cervantes Institute published a report showing that an extra 5 million people were speaking Spanish from 2016 to 2017 – and the report predicts that by 2050, 754 million people around the world will be speaking Spanish! It also revealed that over 21 million people were studying Spanish in 2017 – a figure that will surely rise based on the rest of the report’s findings.

9. Spanish is the world’s second most-spoken mother tongue

Spanish remains the world’s second most-spoken native language (after Mandarin). With the anticipated increase in the world’s number of Spanish-speaking people (along with expected declines in native English and Mandarin speakers), Spanish may be the smartest investment language for both personal and professional benefit in the longer term – especially if South American travel or business opportunities are on the cards.

10. Lots of Spanish words have found their way into the English language

Just as with many other European languages, English is peppered with Spanish words that have integrated seamlessly into the English language (and we are not just talking about tacos and tequila!). Words such as alligator, incommunicado, patio, plaza, cargo and aficionado all derive from Spanish. Want to see some more examples? Find them here!

11. Spanish-language cinema is thriving

The filmmaking world was stunned by this year’s Best Picture Oscar, because it was the first time a foreign language film had taken home the big prize (which went to Parasite, a Korean film by director Bong Joon-ho). But Parasite was nearly pipped to this milestone the year before by Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, a Spanish-language film set in Mexico City, which narrowly lost out on the top Oscar (but Alfonso Cuarón did take home three gold statues on the night, including one for Best Director).

Where before filmgoers may have been put off by subtitles, there now seems to be a greater acceptance of this minor inconvenience that opens the door to so many incredible films. And Spanish film stars and directors are taking the global stage by storm while continuing to make and star in both English-language and Spanish-language films – think Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Pedro Almodóvar and Guillermo del Toro.

12. Spanish may be making a comeback in the Philippines

The Philippines has a curious history. Like many parts of South-East Asia, it has a colonial European past – Spain controlled the Philippines for 300 years, bringing Catholicism and Hispanic culture with it. However, the influence of Spain declined after the United States won the Spanish-American war in 1898, and Spanish is spoken by less than 1% of the population today (down from 60% at the start of the 20th century).

Despite this shift away from Spanish and Spanish influences, the Filipino language contains a third of words of Spanish origin – and with changes in the country suggesting that Spanish is becoming a desirable language for business once again (with Spanish speakers being able to command greater salaries in some professions), who knows what lies ahead for Spanish language learning in the Philippines?

13. Spanish is the second most studied language in the UK

French and German have long been held up as the priority European languages to learn in school, but increasingly schools are offering Spanish at GCSE and A Level (or their equivalents), and Spanish is the most popular language studied by the general public. Spanish has now overtaken German in most areas of the UK in terms of school-student learning (while French holds onto the number one spot for UK schools).

Language learning in UK schools has been declining overall, but perhaps this renewed interest in Spanish could see this trend begin to reverse – especially now that Spanish is also regarded as the most valuable language to learn for the UK’s future?

14. Mexican food has been heavily inspired by Spanish cuisine

Mexican food has a long and interesting history going back thousands of years, with influences from the Aztec Empire thought to have inspired the distinctive Mexican style of cuisine. However, it was the arrival of Spanish invaders in the 1500s that really shifted the menu in Mexico. The introduction of livestock such as cows sheep and pigs, as well as different dairy products, herbs and spices, increased the diversity of the Mexican diet – and further influences from France, West Africa and the Caribbean helped to create the Mexican food we love today.

15. Love chocolate? Thank the Spanish (actually, the Aztecs)

Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés arrived in Mexico in 1519 to lead a devastating battle against the Aztecs – which he won decisively, and at great cost, with thousands of lives lost (the vast majority being Aztec lives). Victorious, Cortés returned to Spain with many spoils of war – including the secrets of the cacao bean. Before long, the Spanish were growing the beans – and over time, the chocolate we know today found its way across the rest of the world.

16. Spanish is not the only language in Spain

While Spanish (or Castilian, as it is sometimes know locally) is the main language in Spain and is the official language of Spain, there are also several other regional languages that have particular importance. Catalan is spoken in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, and this is the most widely spoken of all the regional languages. Others include Valencian, Basque and Galician.

Spanish (Castilian) is essentially the Spanish language of the Americas, though accents vary and there are some minor local differences.

17. Spanish wine is more popular than you might think

France may appear to be the number one destination for fine wine in Europe, but think again – Spain is also full of fruity treasures on the grape trail. You can find some particularly amazing red wines in Spain, from riojas and tempranillos to syrahs and cabernet sauvignons. If you need more convincing, check out this wine map!

18. Wine is a hit across the Spanish-speaking world

Talking about wine, many Spanish-speaking parts of South America have some delicious treats in store for wine lovers. Argentina’s famed wine region, Mendoza, is home to several internationally recognised wineries, and you can expect to see wines from Argentina and Chile in most supermarkets (look out for the region’s fine malbecs if you like a hearty glass of red).

19. Spain’s Fiesta Nacional de España recognises Spain’s link to the Americas (sort of)

This national day of celebration is held annually every 12 October – the date was chosen because it was the day that Christopher Columbus discovered America (it was his first sighting of the Bahamas).

While the link to Spain’s colonial past has been avoided by renaming the day (it used to be called ‘Dia de la Hispanidad’), many celebrations still focus on Christopher Columbus. However, for most people in Spain it is simply an opportunity to spend time with family and friends.

20. Spain is a majority Catholic country

Nearly 70% of Spanish people identify as Catholic, with most of the remaining 30% identifying as unreligious in any way. Another important public holiday in Spain is Assumption Day (otherwise known as ‘Assumption of Mary Day’), which is celebrated on 15 August each year. A street party in Madrid is a notable event, but most areas of Spain make a special effort for these celebrations – including fairs, parades, dancing and fun for all the family.

Introduce Your Team to Spanish Today!

If you believe that learning Spanish may be beneficial to your business in the uncertain years after Brexit, or if you are thinking of cementing longer distance relationships with clients in one of the many Spanish-speaking parts of North, Central and South America, contact us today.

We can work with you to develop a bespoke language learning plan for your business, as well as provide cross-cultural training to help you connect with your overseas colleagues.

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