September 5, 2013

What is the future of Spanish in the United States?

FT_Spanish_NewWith more than 37 million speakers, Spanish is by far the most spoken non-English language in the U.S. today among people ages 5 and older. It is also one of the fastest-growing, with the number of speakers up 233% since 1980, when there were 11 million Spanish speakers. (The number of Vietnamese speakers grew faster, up 599% over the same period).

As Spanish use has grown, driven primarily by Hispanic immigration and population growth, it has become a part of many aspects of life in the U.S. For example, Spanish is spoken by more non-Hispanics in U.S. homes than any other non-English language and Spanish language television networks frequently beat their English counterparts in television ratings.

But what’s the future of Spanish?

According to a 2011 paper by U.S. Census Bureau Demographers Jennifer Ortman and Hyon B. Shin, the number of Spanish speakers is projected to rise through 2020 to anywhere between 39 million and 43 million, depending on the assumption one makes about immigration. Most of these Spanish speakers will be Hispanic, with Ortman and Shin projecting between 37.5 million and 41 million Hispanic Spanish speakers by 2020.

Ortman and Shin provide two other projections, both of which highlight the changing demographics of the nation’s Hispanic population and the rising importance of U.S. births rather than the arrival of new immigrants to Hispanic population growth.

Today, three-fourths of all Hispanics ages 5 and older speak Spanish. However, that share is projected to fall to about two-thirds in 2020. The share of Hispanics that speak Spanish reached 78% in the 2000s.

As the share of Hispanics who speak Spanish falls, the share that speaks only English at home is expected to rise. About a third (34%) of Hispanics will speak only English at home by 2020, up from 25% in 2010, according to Ortman and Shin.

FT_Spanish_EnglishThe story of the Spanish language in the U.S. is still unfolding. Whether it follows the same pattern of decline in use as other non-English languages, such as Italian, German or Polish, remains to be seen. (The number of Italian, German and Polish speakers in the U.S. declined 55.2%, 32.7% and 25.9% between 1980 and 2010, even though the number of Americans who trace their ancestry to Germany, Poland or Italy grew over the same period.)

Nonetheless, the path that Spanish takes could be different. A 2012 Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project report showed 95% of Hispanic adults—including those born in the U.S.—said it is important that future generations of Hispanic speak Spanish. And today’s young Hispanics are more likely than their parents to say they hear messages about the importance of speaking Spanish. But among Hispanics, use of English when consuming news media, television entertainment, music or speaking it is on the rise.

Topics: Hispanic/Latino Demographics, Hispanic/Latino Identity, Language

  1. Photo of Mark Hugo Lopez

    is Director of Hispanic Research, Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Ana Gonzalez-Barrera

    is a Research Associate at the Hispanic Trends Project.

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19 Comments

  1. Bill Frampton2 months ago

    Others have noted that in the case of Spanish, the language is spoken in places much closer to the US than those of other immigrants.

    One point which no one else has mentioned though, is the question of identity. As I would hope both of the authors know, in Spanish América means a continent and therefore americano is a continental identity and not a nationality. In Latin America and most of Europe, schools teach that there is ONE continent in the world, a continent called America.

    Thus, Latin American immigrants don’t think they became American by moving the US because they always were American in the same way a German or an Italian is European. In Spanish they can retain the distinction between the continental identity americano and the US national identity estadounidense. If adopting English requires giving up that distinction, it’s perfectly natural for them to reject English as a consequence. This is almost certainly a major factor in the rise of Spanish in the US.

    Reply
    1. Bill Frampton2 months ago

      That should read one continent in the NEW world, not in the world!

      Reply
  2. Fred3 months ago

    Spanish, was the first european language in EEUU, spaniards explored EEUU many years before another europeans. Billy the Kid spoke spanish perfectly.

    Reply
  3. Kanae3 months ago

    De todas formas el español es mas fácil de aprender, yo vengo de japón y el primer idioma que mejor manejé en estados unidos (USA) fue el español, (por eso decidí escribir este comentario en español, y no en ingles, para no cometer tantos errores >-<) ademas si la gente aprende español, no tendrán que dejar el ingles, no creen que sería interesante habarle a una persona en un idioma (ingles) y que esta pueda entenderte y responderte en otro idioma (español) y ser capaz de entenderle también? yo he hecho eso con muchas personas que entienden el español pero no saben hablarlo muy bien y la verdad es que resulta muy facil hablar así.

    Saludos desde Japón!!

    Reply
  4. Carlos4 months ago

    Italian, German and Polish declined in the United States because their countries of origin were so far away, however I could say Spanish will increase and increase a lot in the United States because that country has many many spanish countries under it (Central America & South America)…

    Reply
  5. Felix6 months ago

    Well, speaking at least two languages is becoming more and more important in today’s society. If the US do not seize this opportunity to increasingly become a bilingual nation they will repent from their shortsightedness in the future. Spanish is the second most spoken language in terms of native speakers in the world and the first in the Western Hemisphere. English is the first language in global communication. Bilingual speakers of these languages will enjoy an increasing advantage. I am from Spain and we would love to have such a situation over here. In Spain school districts are passing laws that require trilingual or bilingual education in all schools, in most cases Spanish-English. The future will be for the multilinguals.

    Reply
  6. Martin Vega7 months ago

    I would like to call attention to the fact that there is a 690,000 to 1,785 million gap between the 2010 figures Ortman and Shin provide, and the actual results of the 2010 Decennial Census for Hispanics 5 years of age and over (45,363 – 44,673, and, 45,363 – 43,578). The estimates and projections done by Ortman and Shin took account three conventional variables: (births – deaths) + net international migration (outflows – inflows). The first two metrics — births and deaths — tend to be predictable, hence easy to estimate year-to-year; however, net international migration data – particularly for undocumented inflows into the U.S. – is much more unpredictable and difficult to estimate and project. Thus, much, if not most of the gap between the Ortman 2008 and 2009 estimates and projections, and the actual results from the 2010 Decennial Census, is directly attributable to the presence in the U.S. of foreign-born Latinos who speak Spanish (and acknowledged as much by co-author Shin whom I interviewed yesterday). Lopez and Gonzalez should have realized the existence of these differences in the data and made corresponding adjustments upward to account for more Spanish-speaking Latinos.

    Second, not all Spanish-speakers whose origins are from Latin America are “Hispanic” or “Latino”. There is a largely unnoticed, yet growing indigenous population from Latin American resident in U.S., from Maine to the state of Washington that may be speak a monolingual indigenous language, but more frequently, has a level of competency speaking Spanish or being bilingual. From 2000 to 2010, this population grew by 516,303, reaching a total of 1,190,904 people. However, these figures significantly understate the size of this population. Post-field Decennial Census studies conducted in California agriculture by Kissam indicate that more than ten percent of this population was undercounted, and the majority is comprised of undocumented and recent arrivals. The point to underscore here is that this important segment of Spanish-speakers was not effectively tabulated in the overall estimates on Spanish-language use in the U.S.

    Third, there is a broader universe out there of Latino heritage speakers (second, third, fourth and fifth generation) who are part of the growing statistics of Spanish speakers present at all levels of the educational system, learning or deepening their knowledge of the language, alongside non-Hispanics:
    • The Instituto Cervantes and Fundación Siglo estimate that there are between 6 to 7.8 million persons learning Spanish in U.S. schools
    • In 2012, enrollment in university-level, advanced Spanish reached 862,688 and continues to grow on an annual basis

    Lastly, as a result of globalization and cross-border (U.S.-Mexico) commerce and trade, the flows of native, Spanish-speakers from Latin America to the U.S. serves to stimulate demand for Spanish-language use in the most varied industries: entertainment and hospitality, fashion, sports, consumer products goods, retail, etc.
    • The U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries estimates that for 2012 approximately 20.9 million persons from the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America and the Caribbean visited the U.S., spending more than $32 billion . This has led many businesses in key gateway cities such as Miami, New York, San Antonio and San Diego to cater specifically to these consumers in-language
    • In 2011, there were 1.1 million Mexican transfronterizos who were issued B1/B2 border-crossing cards. These cards permit millions of Mexicans who feel comfortable straddling the two cultures and languages, to study, work and by consumer goods and services in the U.S.

    In this respect, the prospects of Spanish-language use in the U.S. must be not be limited solely to U.S. Hispanics, but the broader community where they come from and live.

    Reply
    1. Mark Hugo+Lopez7 months ago

      Hello Martin,

      Thank you for your detailed and thoughtful comment on our post.

      You are correct that there is a discrepancy between Ortman and Shin’s projections (which are based on 2008 population projections from the Census Bureau) and later data available from the 2010 and 2011 American Community Surveys. In our charts, we present the projections of Ortman and Shin, but also show our own tabulations from the 2010 ACS and 2011 ACS.

      Any population projection depends on its starting point. You’re correct that the 2010 U.S. Census counted more Hispanics than had been expected (pewhispanic.org/2011/03/15/how-m…). With new 2010 Census numbers on the number of Hispanics, its likely that the projected number of Spanish speakers would be higher through 2020. Even so, note that no matter the starting point, the number of Spanish speakers is projected to rise through 2020.

      You’re also right that not all Spanish speakers in the U.S. have origins in Latin America or Spain (or other nations as well). We wrote about this earlier this year (pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/0…), noting that there are more non-Hispanics who speak Spanish than any other non-English language. That reflects the reach of the Spanish language (in business, schools, universities as you note).

      But its also important to note that the vast majority of Spanish speakers are Hispanic (more then three-fourths). And while there is a broader community of Spanish speakers, much of the growth in the number of Spanish speakers in the U.S. has been driven by growth in the Hispanic population.

      Finally, our analysis (and that of Ortman and Shin) is only of people ages 5 and older who speak Spanish at home.

      –Mark

      Reply
      1. Tim Norris6 months ago

        Mark;what is your personal prediction on the future of Spanish in the USA? Will it always be important?

        Reply
  7. Rafael Sanchez7 months ago

    The difference between german, italian or polish respect to spanish is that the decline of those languages was due to the distance to their country of origen. However, spanish is spoken just side by side to the USA.So the influence of the spanish language in the US not only won’t decline but will increase. Greetings from España.

    Reply
  8. Lumal7 months ago

    Is my opinion, that more and more people are aware of the importance of speaking a second language and the development of more languages will be different in USA not like in the 30′s and 40′s when speaking a language other than English was consider shameful.

    Reply
    1. Ryan4 months ago

      I still think its shameful. people risk their lives to come to this country because the place they came from is so bad, but then expect us to speak their language, cater to them, require a translator at the doctor or hospital (on someone else’s dime of course). now every sign at Lowes is bilingual, I don’t shop there any more. bunch of bull. if you want to live here, come here legally, accept the country for what it is, learn the language, and obey the laws. if Americans are going to learn a second language, I’d suggest Chinese, they already own us…

      Reply
      1. Max3 months ago

        I suppose that Puerto Rico or all the other Spanish speaking inhabitants from the territories that we “acquired” from Mexico and the former Spanish empire also “came” to “us”? Many continued to speak Spanish just as the Cajuns continued to speak French in Louisiana for hundred a years until the 30s and 40s (as mentioned above). American Imperialists attempted to force the English language upon Puerto Rico but to no avail. Being that Puerto Rico wishes to formally join the Union, coupled with the fact that there are already many millions of other Spanish speakers, the fact that should be accepted is that the Spanish language is culturally apart of the United States and should be accepted as being “American”.

        My advice is if you do not like it, than go emigrate to one of the other English only countries. Oh wait…

        Reply
        1. Liz2 months ago

          We won’t allow Spanish to be number one….Won’t happen. I will do everything in my power to prevent it. You see Max my parents were immigrants I spoke only Spanish at one time I came to this country because my parents wanted the American dream. I learned English rather quickly no translators at that time American didn’t cater to criminals. You had to honor America’s values or you were an outcast…..We need to go back to that…Don’t you think?????

          Reply
      2. Lynda Sue Rankin4 days ago

        I agree 100%

        Reply
  9. Cristina Baccin7 months ago

    Thanks to point this topic in your research. The trend that you are highlighting seems the result of policies addressed to homogenize culture, and language.
    The more diverse we speak, the better would be our culture, and our opennes to diversity. It´s a pity that USA is loosing the gift of, at least, one more language. It already loose other languages that came with immigrants, and it´s loosing Native American languages, as well. Is Spanish the next?

    Reply
    1. Margaret Nahmias7 months ago

      Maybe it is me, but maybe bilingual Hispanics don’t like telenovelas and look for other options on Anglo TV. Why do think Unvision and the like run all days? I also find the Hispanic News media a little biased towards immgrations covering raids and deportations and protests and not talking about other issues surronding the topics.

      Reply
  10. Carlos Gutierrez7 months ago

    So sad to see the use of Spanish declining in the future. I can see now how 2nd/3d and following generations of immigrants are not speaking it at all.

    Reply
    1. Fred2 months ago

      That’s just the way it is Carlos.

      Reply