Spanish Translation: World’s Largest Spanish-Speaking Populations

The figures one sees for the number of Spanish speakers per country vary tremendously. One of the biggest factors is whether the number being cited includes all “Spanish speakers”—including those who speak Spanish as a first, second or even third language—or exclusively those who speak Spanish as their first or “native” language (their mother tongue, to use the common expression in Spanish).
Many countries in the Americas enjoy rich linguistic diversity (as does Spain), and not everyone there speaks Spanish as their first language. Additionally, in Brazil and the United States, significant portions of the population speak Spanish as a second language.
It is also interesting to note that, even though the number of first-language Spanish speakers in the United States is relatively small when considered as a percentage of the population (12%), this country still represents the third-largest native-speaking Spanish population in the world.
For example, compare these “top ten” lists:

Spanish Speakers (1st or 2nd language) *

1.      Mexico                                         107 million

2.      United States                                50 million

3.      Spain                                           46 million

4.      Colombia                                       45 million

5.      Argentina                                      40 million

6.      Venezuela                                     28 million

7.      Peru                                             25 million

8.      Chile                                            17 million

9.      Ecuador                                        14 million

10.    Brazil                                            12 million

Spanish Speakers (“mother tongue” only) *

1.      Mexico                                           100 million

2.      Colombia                                         45 million

3.      United States                                   43 million

4.      Spain                                              42 million

5.      Argentina                                         39 million

6.      Venezuela                                        28 million

7.      Peru                                                23 million

8.      Chile                                               15 million

9.      Ecuador                                           13 million

10.    Cuba                                                11 million

*   Source: 2009 study “The Economic Value of Spanish” funded by the United Nations and the International Telecommunications Union, based on population data from 2004-2005. Figures rounded to the nearest million. 2004-2005 data estimated 400 million first-language Spanish speakers, plus perhaps 25 million non-native speakers. However, the same study’s projections for 2009-2010 estimate approximately 500 million “Spanish speakers” in total.
ASIST Translation Services, Inc. is a full-service translation agency located in Columbus, Ohio. We provide translation, interpreting, proofreading, voice recording and media production, localization of interactive and Web content, and specialized language services to clients around the world.

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