“Apply yourself to the study of the Spanish language with all the assiduity you can. It and the English covering nearly the whole face of America, they should be well known to every inhabitant, who means to look beyond the limits of his farm.”

Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Peter Carr” (1788)


Spanish is America’s second language

Spanish is the second most common language in the United States of America after English, being also known as American Spanish. According to the 2012 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, Spanish is the primary language spoken at home by 38.3 million people aged five or older, a figure more than double that of 1990.1  This excludes the 3.6 million native speakers in Puerto Rico.

There are 45 million Hispanophones who speak Spanish as a first or second language, as well as six million Spanish language students, comprising the largest national Spanish-speaking community outside of Mexico and making Spanish the Romance language and the Indo-European language with the largest number of native speakers in the world. Roughly half of all U.S. Spanish speakers also speak English “very well,” based on the self-assessment Census question respondents.2

Today, Spanish is so widely spoken in the United States that it is generally considered to be either the third or the fourth largest Spanish-speaking country in the world (after Mexico, Colombia and possibly Spain). It is also being learned and spoken by a growing proportion of its non-Hispanic population for its increasing use in business, commerce, and both domestic and international politics.

2010 US Census Hispanic Population by County
2010 US Census Hispanic Population by County


  • Spanish has a status of official language (along with English) in the state of New Mexico and in Puerto Rico
  • Although Spanish is not the most spoken language in any state, it is the second most spoken language in 43 states and the District of Columbia
  • Generally, US Hispanics are bilingual to some degree. Hispanics and Latinos are the second fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States after Asian Americans. As of 2012, Hispanics constitute 17% of the United States population, or 53 million people.3 This figure includes 38 million Hispanophone Americans, making the US home to the largest community of Spanish speakers outside of Mexico, having surpassed Argentina, Colombia, and Spain within the last decade. Latinos overall are the second largest ethnic group in the United States.4
  • A study by Simmons Market Research found that 19% of the Hispanic population speak only Spanish while 9% speak only English, 55% have limited English proficiency and 17% are fully English-Spanish bilingual
  • There are more Spanish speakers in the United States than there are speakers of French (another language inherited from European colonization), Hawaiian, and the various Native American languages taken all together
  • Living an exclusively Spanish-speaking life is viable in some areas due to the constant influx of immigrants and the prevalence of Spanish-language mass media, such as Univisión, Telemundo USA, and Azteca America
  • Also, because of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA ), it is now common for many American manufacturers to use trilingual product labeling in which the same text is repeated in English, Spanish and French. Apart from the businesses that have always catered to Spanishspeaking immigrants, a small but rapidlyincreasing number of mainstream American retailers are beginning to provide dual-language advertising and in-store signage in both English and Spanish
  • Spanish is the most widely taught non-English language in U.S. secondary schools and institutions of higher education, indicating its importance among non-Hispanic Americans
  • In U.S. alone there are 40 newspapers, 300 weekly editions, 3 national channels and hundreds of radio stations in Spanish
  • Intergenerational transmission of Spanish is a better indicator of the future of Spanish in the United States than crude numbers of native Spanish-speaking immigrants. Although Latin American immigrants have various levels of English proficiency, Hispanics who are second generation American in the United States almost all speak English, but about 50 percent speak Spanish at home
  • The State of the Union Addresses and other U.S. Presidential speeches have been translated into Spanish following the precedent set by the Bill Clinton administration. Official Spanish translations are available at Whitehouse.gov. In addition to this, some non-Hispanic politicians who are fluent in the Spanish language have often delivered speeches in Spanish to Hispanic majority constituencies


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1. “Primary language spoken at home by people aged 5 or older.” United States Census Bureau 2012 American Community Survey on the American FactFinder website quoted in “Spanish language in the United States” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 14/11/2014
2. Shin, Hyon B. (with Rosalind Bruno) (2003). “Language Use and English-Speaking Ability: 2000.” United States Census 2000 on the United States Census website [Online] Cited 14/11/2014
3. “Nationally, the most populous minority group remains Hispanics, who numbered 52 million in 2011; they also were the fastest growing, with their population increasing by 3.1 percent since 2010. This boosted the Hispanic share of the nation’s total population to 16.7 percent in 2011, up from 16.3 percent in 2010.
California had the largest Hispanic population of any state on July 1, 2011 (14.4 million), as well as the largest numeric increase within the Hispanic population since April 1, 2010 (346,000). New Mexico had the highest percentage of Hispanics at 46.7 percent.
Los Angeles had the largest Hispanic population of any county (4.8 million) in 2011 and the largest numeric increase since 2010 (73,000). Starr County – on the Mexican border in Texas – had the highest share of Hispanics (95.6 percent).”
“Most Children Younger Than Age 1 are Minorities, Census Bureau Reports” United States Census Bureau, Thursday, May 17, 2012 [Online] Cited 14/11/2014
4. “Hispanic and Latino Americans” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 14/11/2014