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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42 Comments

  1. Mary2 days ago

    Naturally the arrogant Spaniards engage in stroking their overinflated egos. Even Portuguese is a much better position as it is spoken officially on every continent. Spanish is 99% spoken in the west. Plus, none of the Spanish speaking countries match Brazil’s powerful economy which currently number 5 in the world. And Angola and Mozambique are rich in natural resources, and economic powerhouses in Africa. A language had dynamism and influence when it is spoken widely in the world, and when the economies of the countries that speak that language are strong and growing day by day. This is the Case with Brazil, and the aforementioned Portuguese speaking African countries (6 in all). And the Chinese are doing tons of trade with all of the Portuguese speaking countries. They themselves are learning Portuguese. These factors are what give a language a very bright future, as in the case of Portuguese.

    Reply
  2. John2 days ago

    The Spanish language is the USA is overrated. Sure, there are millions of Spanish speakers, BUT, English is still the main national language. Descendants of Spanish speaking parents are more interested in English – their parents as well. It is inevitable that English will prevail. When in Rome do as the Romans do kind of thing. Plus, the numbers of Spanish speaking immigrants is decreasing, and at the same time the Spanish language slowly loses ground, while English gains ground.

    Reply
  3. adewale adeniyi3 weeks ago

    i like spanis in the hope if i get any job there i will be happy. God bess your conutry.

    Reply
  4. Matthew Hall4 weeks ago

    Define “Hispanic.”

    Reply
  5. Daniel4 weeks ago

    Spanish is not a foreign language in the U.S. The fact that spanish is spoken in México does not make it a foreign language as the fact that English is spoken in Canada does not make English as foreign language. European languages came to America and Spanish was in U.S. territory even before than english.
    There is a discrimination attitute against spanish. In Hawai, hawaian is an official language. In Canada french was respected where there were french speaking population. Not the same was done in those territories where spanish was spoken before they were part of U.S. Even the american government tried to eliminate Spanish in Puerto Rico.

    Reply
  6. Neptune 19621 month ago

    People come to the United States because its the United States- this is were the opportunity is, and the opportunity is created by the system of government we have- we vote in. So you can forget the comments about imperialism and takeover. This isnt the country you wanted to leave. You also make it seem as though Mexico is the only country people are coming from. I have friends from Japan, Germany, Poland, Chile and China-that have immigrated within the past 10 years. they all either learned English before coming because its required in most countries in school- for business and job reasons-or had working knowledge and got better. Including my wife -who is German. I was an immigrant in her country first, and was required to learn German to immigrate. For simple reason- to assimilate -.Its hard enough being in a totally different country without speaking the common language- and respecting the people of that country. My question is if we have so many people immigrating from Mexico -why isnt the Mexican government teaching English? Why are we expected to learn Spanish? How will you become a citizen when you need to learn English to become one. you can’t vote or protest without possibly being deported if you are not a citizen unless you are over 50 and have been here for 20 years. If you don’t vote how can we keep the system of government you came here for in place? I am bi lingual in English and German, and will choose one of my own families languages to learn next.

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  7. Samantha Glenn2 months ago

    I’m sorry I was born in the united states and I speak English, I don’t plan on making Spanish my primary language any time soon.

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    1. Noel E. Gutierrez1 month ago

      Samantha, don’t be sorry about Speaking English in America. The English Language is the De FACTO Language of our Nation, but remember that every State decides to use it or not. Spanish is a good Language to know, but at the same time it’s good to learn some Chinese and some German or French to communicate in the World.

      Reply
    2. Marvin A. Hernandez1 month ago

      That is one arrogant comment. Nobody is saying you will have to switch to Spanish, this is a study to see where Spanish is going. Ignorance still prevails in this nation.

      Reply
  8. Igna4 months ago

    i believe Spanish will increase its number in the future

    Reply
  9. Bill Frampton8 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 Frampton8 months ago

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

      Reply
  10. Fred8 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
    1. really3 months ago

      Everytime someone abreviates the US in Spanish as ‘EEUU’ I always think they are refering to the European Union. What you said is true. In the continental US Spanish was the first spoken Europe language.

      Reply
      1. Thalisa Aragon2 months ago

        The abbreviation for the European Union in Spanish is U.E., not E.E.U.U.

        Reply
  11. Kanae9 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
    1. Juan4 months ago

      Ustedes pensando diferente a Los demás, muchos solo tienen mentalidad de racismo. Yo admiro su cultura y su dedicación a todo lo que hacen por el bien de su patria y su superación personal. (Japón) conosco personas Europeas saben hablar hasta 7 idiomas diferentes. Y en EE.UU. Que cres?. Solo uno.. Porque es idioma universal.. I speak English too..
      Saludos!!

      Reply
    2. San Diego4 months ago

      Interesting that somebody from Japan found it easier to master Spanish than English while living in the USA.

      Hmm. Most Japanese in the US are in California, which has cities with such English names as Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego….

      I make a point of speaking both languages often and as well as I can. Let’s not forget that Spanish was spoken in huge areas of the USA long before English!

      Reply
      1. fred flintstone4 months ago

        @ san deigo….it wasn’t the USA then.

        Reply
  12. Carlos9 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
  13. Felix11 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
    1. fred flintstone5 months ago

      You Felix should include why spanish is spoken by more and more people here in this USA.

      Surely you know it is because illegal mexicans come here disregarding US law. But of course
      so called americans want them here as well.

      I’d better be quiet.

      If this posts i’ll be a monkeys uncle.

      Reply
  14. Martin Vega1 year 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+Lopez1 year 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 Norris12 months ago

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

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      2. Joe4 months ago

        Hey Mark!
        What about the projections of non hispanic people learning Spanish and people studying the language in schools, and elementary schools possibly instructing half the day in Spanish??? Spanish becoming popular in mainstream media and culture in the future??

        Reply
    2. Eduardo Herrera2 months ago

      Hi Martin.

      I´m Very Interested about the facts that you gave in the articule. I´ve been trying to get some information about how many people study Spanish in the USA and it seems that you have done your investigation too. Could you please tell me where you found your information mosty the one that over 800k students are taking advanced Spanish in the US

      I would Truly Appreaciate your help

      Reply
  15. Rafael Sanchez1 year 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
  16. Lumal1 year 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. Ryan10 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. Max8 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…

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        1. Liz8 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
          1. Tourist5 months ago

            It is necessary that the natives have children. If you do not, every effort is useless. To the companies are interested in it the buyers.
            The Hispanics has buyers for the future.

      2. Lynda Sue Rankin6 months ago

        I agree 100%

        Reply
  17. Cristina Baccin1 year 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 Nahmias1 year 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
      1. really3 months ago

        You feel me! All Univision and Telemundo show is cheap looking ‘telenovelas.’ I also don’t like the reality shows that Univision puts up like ‘Nuestra Belleza Latina’ or a spanish Dancing with the Stars. I wish they would put in higher budget shows like the anglo speaking channels. The plot for telenovelas are also really obvious. The news is biased. They pretty much show the pope and focus too much on the border and immigration. They try to make the detention center where the immigrant childer are held at bad and exagerate when in fact they show it everyday with not even new information.

        Reply
  18. Carlos Gutierrez1 year 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. Fred7 months ago

      That’s just the way it is Carlos.

      Reply
    2. Mike4 months ago

      That’s right. Spanish is safe in the Countries that speak Spanish officially. But in the US English will always be the number 1 language. In Brazil, a nation of millions and millions of immigrants, Portuguese is not in any danger of remaining the official language. And Brazil is surrounded by Spanish speaking countries. When spanish speaking south americans move to Brazil for example, they must learn Portuguese even though the Brazilians understand the spanish speakers perfectly, as Portuguese and Spanish are so, so closely related. Still, one must learn and speak the official language of the land to have any upward social, economic mobility.

      Reply
      1. really3 months ago

        The US doesn’t have an official language at national level. There are only official at state level and some states don’t have an official language. English AND Spanish are official in some states/territories. California, Texas, Puerto Rico and other states have Spanish and Enlish as an official language.

        Reply
        1. Jon2 months ago

          Only Puerto Rico has Spanish as an official language. California only has English and Texas has none. See languagepolicy.net

          Reply