Spain was a global superpower throughout several centuries. Many parts of the world, including especially the American continent, were first explored and conquered under the Spanish flag by Spanish speakers (though Columbus himself was born in Italy).
As a result, there are about 350 million Spanish native speakers in the world today, mainly in Latin America and Spain itself. This makes Spanish the second most natively spoken language in the world after Mandarin Chinese.
Spanish and other languages spoken in Spain
While the Spanish Kingdom is the place of origin of the Spanish language, there are many different versions and dialects of Spanish in various regions of Spain, and there are also languages which are similar to Spanish, but not considered Spanish at all, especially by the natives. These are languages like Basque or Catalan. To differentiate from these other languages spoken in Spain, the Spanish language itself is referred to as castellano (Castilian) by the Spanish.
Places that speak Spanish in Europe
Besides Spain, Spanish is spoken in two tiny neighbouring countries: Andorra and Gibraltar. However, Spanish is not the official language in either of these. In Gibraltar, a British colony, the official language is English, while in Andorra it is Catalan.
There are Spanish speaking minorities and communities in many European countries, particularly in France, Switzerland, Germany, and the UK.
Spanish language in Latin America
From the global perspective, the majority of Spanish native speakers live on the American continent. Spanish is the official or widely recognized administrative language in most countries south of the US, starting with Mexico, with 100 million native speakers the biggest Spanish speaking country in the world.
Other big Spanish speaking countries include Colombia, Argentina, Venezuela, Peru, Chile, and Ecuador. Spanish is also spoken on many islands in the Caribbean – for example the biggest one, Cuba.
Spanish language in Brazil
Brazil, the biggest Latin American country, has a special relationship with the Spanish language. Though its official language is Portuguese (which is similar to Spanish anyway), Spanish classes are mandatory in secondary schools in Brazil. This is understandable, as virtually all other countries located near Brazil speak Spanish.
The prevalence of Spanish and Portuguese languages, which both have Latin origin, is the reason why the region of Central and South America is commonly referred to as Latin America.
Spanish language in the USA and Canada
Spanish is the native language of 12% of the US population. Almost 43 million US citizens reportedly speak Spanish as their first language. It is also the most popular second language to learn. This means more Spanish speakers live in the US than in Spain. The USA has the second largest Spanish speaking population in the world (after Mexico).
There are also almost one million native Spanish speakers in Canada.
Spanish as foreign language
Spanish is a very popular language people learn as a foreign language. If you combine Spanish native speakers, those who speak Spanish as a second language in bilingual regions, and people who have learned Spanish as a foreign language, you will find more than half a billion (500 million) Spanish speakers in the world.
Spanish is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations and one of the languages commonly used in international business.
The above are strong reasons for learning Spanish too. Being able to communicate in Spanish opens a wide range of opportunities, from meeting new friends and discovering other cultures to better career and business prospects.
Though it does take effort (and time) to learn Spanish, there are much more difficult languages in this world. If you combine the right tools with dedication and active practicing, you can learn Spanish relatively fast.