If you clicked on this article, it’s safe to assume that you’re an English speaker beginning your language-learning journey. Maybe you already know English and other languages and you’re embarking on your third, fourth, or fifth language.
In any case, I’m here to answer the frequently asked question “Why should I learn Spanish?” with a wide variety of responses.
Any language is good, but Spanish is better
Learning any foreign language has incalculable benefits. With another language under your belt, you can communicate with any and all of its speakers. The regions of the world speaking that language will become your proverbial oyster, and your cross-cultural experiences will be enriched manyfold.
But why learn Spanish? Spanish is a smart choice as your next language because in addition to the aforementioned reasons, there are benefits of learning Spanish in particular — especially if you’re a native English speaker and/or if you’re based in the United States.
Reason #1: Numbers don’t lie
Spanish evolved from Latin on the Iberian Peninsula, and years of migration and colonization has resulted in the dissemination of the Spanish language across the globe.
Currently, 572 million people speak Spanish worldwide, and 477 million people are native speakers. Twenty one countries, listed below, have Spanish as an official or national language, spanning Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa.
Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
Should I learn French or Spanish? What about Mandarin, Hindi, or Arabic? While Mandarin and Hindi have more speakers than Spanish does, these languages are spoken in fewer countries. French and Arabic are spoken in more countries, but the total speaker counts are lower than that of Spanish. Plus, Arabic has mutually unintelligible dialects, so the Arabic you learn in the classroom might not translate across the Arabic-speaking world. In other words, Spanish has the best of both worlds: spoken mutually intelligibly by many people and spoken in many countries.
If you’re based in the United States, Spanish is definitely your best choice for a second language. In the US, it’s the second-most spoken language. There are over 40 million native Spanish speakers and 12 million bilingual Spanish speakers; in fact, there are more Spanish speakers in the US than there are in Spain.
Logically, Spanish has become the most studied language after English in the United States — get on the bandwagon, amigo/a!
Reason #2: Geography doesn’t lie, either
Why is Spanish important in the United States, and why does the United States have so many Spanish speakers? Of course, geography plays a role. The United States borders Mexico, and many regions of the United States used to belong to Mexico. Mexican Cession in 1848 resulted in Mexico losing large swaths of land, becoming present-day California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming.
You can still sense the cultural and linguistic influence of Mexico in these regions, where chiles color the cuisine and Spanish and Spanglish coexist with English.
Moreover, immigration has had a big influence on the linguistic composition of the United States. Hispanic immigrants and refugees arrive at the southern border from Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean in search of opportunity and stability. In the process, these migrants bring their cuisines, music, and, of course, the Spanish language.
One can appreciate the impact of immigration in the southern states — think Texas, California, and Florida — where large populations of Mexicans and Central Americans live. Florida is known for its large Cuban population and its cultural influence owing to the Sunshine State’s geographical proximity to the island nation. Puerto Ricans living in New York City are dubbed Nuyoricans, a testament to their inextricable linkage to the city; in fact, they make up nearly 9% of New York City’s population according to the 2010 census. Communities of South American transplants, such as Chileans, Argentinians, Venezuelans, and Colombians, also exist throughout the country.
Reason #3: Be a traveler, not a tourist
While English is spoken across large swaths of the world, especially in places with high levels of tourism, it’s not necessarily everyone’s mother tongue. Learning the native language of the place you visit — or at least some key words and expressions — will enhance your travel experiences significantly.
Is Spanish useful? If travel is your goal, then Spanish is super useful as a second language. Influenced by the Mediterranean, Morocco, and Europe, Spain is dotted with Arab fortresses, Roman ruins, modern metropolises, and stunning beaches.
Argentina’s cool capital features world-class art museums, and Patagonia offers unparalleled excursions and sublime scenery.
Mexico enjoys bustling cities, Mayan and Aztec ruins, and renowned gastronomy. With a strong command of Spanish, you’ll be able to communicate effectively with the Spanish speakers you come across, making travel logistics easier and allowing for deeper interpersonal connections. Moreover, your Spanish will help you appreciate the rich histories and cultures of the places you visit — no need to translate museum wall text or song lyrics!
Reason #4: Spanish is relatively easy to learn
Is Spanish easy? “Easy” is a relative term. Even after years of study and immersion, speaking, listening, reading, and writing in Spanish will always be challenging for a non-native speaker. However, Spanish is relatively easy for English speakers, meaning you can expect to become proficient (and strive to become fluent) quickly and without too much headache compared to other world languages.
Spanish is a great choice for your second language because you don’t have to learn a new alphabet, which means you can jump right into learning words, phrases, grammar, pronunciation, and more.
On the other hand, Russian and other Slavic languages use Cyrillic, and Arabic, Hindi, and Greek have their own alphabets. Mandarin forgoes an alphabet altogether, instead opting for characters called Hanzi to represent words. Japanese is incredibly tricky because it uses characters supplemented with two syllabaries, or alphabets of syllables instead of letters.
When English speakers first learn Spanish, they might be pleasantly surprised by how much vocabulary they already know. This is due to a large number of cognados (cog-NAH-dos), or “cognates,” which are words that look and/or sound similar in English and Spanish.
Some of these words are préstamos lingüísticos (PREH-stah-mos leen-GWEE-stee-cohs), or “loaner words,” from other languages, such as Arabic, French, and Indigenous languages. In other words, if you know how to speak English, you already know how to speak some Spanish!
English and Spanish share parts of speech and grammatical structures due to their common Indo-European ancestry. Both English and Spanish use subjects and verbs to form full sentences, and more complex sentences can have adjectives, adverbs, direct and indirect objects with prepositions sprinkled in. To learn more about Spanish grammar fundamentals, check out this blog post.
Reason #5: Spanish improves your English.
During your Spanish studies, you may notice an unintended benefit: your reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills may improve in English, too!
Grammar, reading, and writing
Many language learners find grammar daunting: they shudder when their tutor throws around words like “clause,” “direct object,” and “subjunctive.” Chances are, if you’ve been immersed in English-speaking environments from a young age, you’ve never had to interrogate English’s inner workings: English words, phrases, and next-to-perfect grammar flow out of you with ease. No wonder they call it “fluency”! When it comes to studying Spanish as a foreign language, on the other hand, it becomes incredibly important to understand grammar. For example, if you don’t know what subjects, verbs, and conjugations are, you’ll never nail subject-verb agreement in Spanish.
Over the course of your language-learning journey, this process of grasping Spanish grammar will help you grasp English grammar, too. Spanish grammar is quite similar to English grammar, so many lessons learned translate from Spanish back to English. At the same time, Spanish’s discrepancies from English make you work to understand what’s going on, ensuring that you understand Spanish grammar — and, by extension, English grammar — inside and out. As a result, you’ll become a better reader and writer in Spanish and English, avoiding common pitfalls and constructing coherent, meaningful sentences in both languages. (just a comment, not an edit–nice!!)
Speaking and listening
Even after months of mastering reading and writing in Spanish, learners may still have trouble with speaking and listening. Conversation is extemporaneous after all, meaning you don’t get a chance to mull over your words before you express them or press pause on your interlocutor. In particular, Spanish pronunciation isn’t a walk in the park, and the language is notorious for its fast pace. To help build your confidence for the real world of conversational Spanish, experienced Spanish instructors will be sure to help you practice your pronunciation, fluency, and listening comprehension in a low-pressure environment.
Again, these endeavors will likely present benefits to your speaking in English. Learning to introduce yourself, practicing ordering at a restaurant, and casually conversing in Spanish will carry over to your English speech, and listening to rapid-fire Spanish from all over the world will also train your ear for English speakers.
You may find that learning Spanish words ends up teaching you English vocabulary words, too! Many words derived from Latin are quotidian (everyday) in Spanish and grandiloquent (pompous, extravagant) in English — more examples in the chart below.
|la enfermedad||infirmity||disease, weakness|
Reason #6: Springboard into another world language
With English and Spanish at your disposal, you can pursue other world languages with relative ease. Portuguese, French, Italian, and other Romance languages are popular choices after Spanish, and even German and Arabic could be great options. Read more about how learning Spanish can help you unlock these other languages below.
Spanish and Portuguese are incredibly similar: their grammatical structures and vocabulary are quite close, making the languages nearly mutually intelligible on paper. However, Spanish has more Arabic loaner words than Portuguese does, resulting in different vocabulary. Moreover, spoken Portuguese has a larger “phonemic inventory” than Spanish, meaning it has many sounds that Spanish speakers can’t understand right off the bat. An experienced language tutor can help you improve your listening comprehension with conversation, audio recordings, and other activities to ease you into Portuguese.
French, Italian, and Other Romance Languages
Languages derived from Latin are known as Romance languages. As a result of their shared ancestry, Romance languages — such as Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, and Romanian — have common alphabets, vocabulary, and grammatical features. Check out this list of some cognates, which are words that look and/or sound similar in multiple Romance languages.
|authority||la autoridad||a autoridade||l’autorité||l’autorità|
|distance||la distancia||a distância||la distance||la distanza|
|origin||el origen||a origem||l’origine||l’origine|
|remedy||el remedio||le remède||il remedio||o remédio|
Unlike English, these languages all feature grammatical gender, meaning inanimate objects are masculine or feminine. They also require extensive verb conjugation, or modification to verb endings to convey tense, subject, and mood. After you master the concepts of grammatical gender and verb conjugation in Spanish, you won’t have to relearn them for other Romance languages.
Arabic, German, and Other World Languages
Yet another reason to study Spanish: it’s easier to learn another world language with both English and Spanish under your belt. Spanish has key differences from English, such as grammatical gender, flipped word order, and pronunciation. When you hone these skills in Spanish, you’re recalibrating your brain to accept such differences when you hear, speak, read, and write them.
Consider trying out Arabic, which shares lots of vocabulary with Spanish but a new alphabet — see some examples in the chart below.
Give German a chance: its complex sentence structures are less intimidating with your knowledge of Spanish syntax, and its lengthy vocabulary words are more manageable with your practiced Spanish pronunciation.
|el naranjo||naranju||orange tree|
All in all, learning any foreign language is a worthwhile endeavor. As an English speaker and/or inhabitant of the United States, learning Spanish has all the benefits of expanding your brain and language skills with some extra benefits: you’ll be able to communicate with millions of speakers in geographically and culturally distinct regions of the globe, you’ll pick up the language with relative ease, and you’ll improve your English and capacity to learn yet another foreign language along the way.