In its new study, El Español en el mundo, the Instituto analyses use of Spanish around the world in 2012, showing how in three generations the US will surpass Mexico to have the largest concentration of Spanish speakers in the world.
However, it suggests the most exciting new markets lie in Asia, specifically continental China, Hong Kong, Japan and India. Some 25,000 Chinese undergraduates studied Spanish across the 90 universities that offer it last year – up from just 1,500 in 2000 while hundreds of private Spanish institutes have opened in Beijing (35 in total) and across the country in recent years.
“Spanish is our most valuable asset”
There were also 2,000 high-schools and 240 universities teaching Spanish in Japan, while in India there were 4,250 enrolments at 15 university centres – triple the amount of six years ago.
“Spanish is our most valuable asset,” García-Margallo said and added that Insituto Cervantes, which works to promote the language worldwide, is “one of the crown jewels of Spain’s foreign actions”.
But clear barriers remain to cracking Asia. In China, for instance, there is a scarcity in qualified professors (just 600 in the whole country). Instituto Cervantes estimates universities can only accept 30% of applications made to university Spanish courses but says that if resources permitted, enrolments could be as high as 83,000.
Spanish has risen 800% in the last decade to become the second most used language on Twitter and the third most on the internet
García-Margallo conceded that Spain’s presence in Asia”has arrived late, but we want to make up lost ground”. The government plans to redistribute resources and consolidate its efforts in Japan and China.
Efforts will without a doubt focus on technology, as Spanish has risen 800% in the last decade to become the second most used language on Twitter and the third most on the internet behind English and Chinese.
But while building interest may take time the need has never been clearer. Almost 500 million people in the world currently speak Spanish, according to the Instituto, and an additional 18 million study it as a foreign language.
The study predicts that by 2030, 7.5% of the world will be native speakers, second only to Chinese.