General Question

GeorgeGee's avatar

The US has more Spanish speakers than Spain! Does that justify Spanish becoming an official second language?

Asked by GeorgeGee (4920points) October 6th, 2010

The US doesn’t have an official language, though “English only” movements appear from time to time. But with more Spanish speakers than Spain itself, wouldn’t you say that ship has come and left already?

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41 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

What ship?

People will speak what they speak, whether it is official or not.

troubleinharlem's avatar

Why do we need any “official” languages? I thought that America was supposed to be for all types of people, no matter what they spoke.

robmandu's avatar

@troubleinharlem, the challenge comes in how the government must publish documents, conduct business, and otherwise communicate with the population.

For example, should an IRS 1040EZ form be made available in Mandarin? Swahili? Vulcan?

troubleinharlem's avatar

@robmandu : I suppose you’re right, that makes sense. I didn’t think of that side of it, haha. xD

bigjay's avatar

you said it yourself, the us doesnt even have an official first language, so having an official second language would be rather strange
@robmandu those figures seem rather unbelievable, considering how english is the language of instruction in the indian federal education system. it is also taught in a large number of schools in bangladesh and pakistan. i mean sure, it depends what it is you consider ‘speaking’, but 300 million sounds rather paltry :/

iamthemob's avatar

We actually do have an official first AND second language. English is our official language…and French is the second (anyone with a U.S. passport whip it out ;-))

troubleinharlem's avatar

@iamthemob : I can’t find the part with French as the second official language.

robmandu's avatar

@bigjay, all such numbers should be taken with a large grain of salt.

I speak German, but not natively. My second language might not count, depending on how the results are collected.

So there’s some large amount of wiggle room in how these surveys actually count what languages people speak.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
weeveeship's avatar

I think they can use Spanish as a second official language in southwestern states. Just kind of like how they use English and French in Quebec. This should be a states’ rights issue.

Ultimately though, the language used by the federal government should be English.

iamthemob's avatar

@troubleinharlem – the page facing your picture…there’s a message from the secretary of state in english then french

marinelife's avatar

I don’t think having an official second language is a good idea.

bob_'s avatar

No. It’s all about relative numbers.

@iamthemob All passports have marks in the country’s “official” language (which in the case of the U.S. is de facto, not de juris), and French.

iamthemob's avatar


Hmm…I could have sworn that after the Revolution and the War of 1812 French was adopted as a secondary official language as a diplomatic maneuver. But I can’t find info on that right now…so I’m willing to back down.

And yeah, there’s that whole Federal/State issue if we’re going to talk about “official” languages.

tinyfaery's avatar

Where I live, almost everything is written/spoken in English and Spanish anyway.

ParaParaYukiko's avatar

Wouldn’t it make the argument that Americans should know Spanish as a second language because there are more Spanish speakers in the USA?

iamthemob's avatar


Not necessarily – however, once there are more spanish speakers than english speakers in the U.S., it sure will.

bob_'s avatar

@ParaParaYukiko It’s a matter of incentives. When the benefits of speaking a language are greater than the costs of learning, people will start to learn it in greater numbers.

@iamthemob See here.

WestRiverrat's avatar

We have more English speakers than England, and more Icelandic speakers than Iceland.

GracieT's avatar

I don’t speak any language other than English. I very much wish that I did. If we made Spanish another official language it would be great, especially if it meant that we would teach everyone both beginning in elementary school.

squirbel's avatar

I would be in favor of Spanish being the secondary official language of the United States.

I was raised speaking spanish, but when I was adopted at 6, I was only allowed to speak English. So my Spanish has gone away, and I feel robbed and violated. Lately, I’ve been going through a stage where I really don’t like our fair skinned counterparts, but I know it’s a phase, and you should understand it to be that as well.

I just feel jipped.

MrItty's avatar

The language(s) in which a message is written on our passports does not constitute those languages being “official” in any way, shape, or form. The US has no official language, and never has.

Of COURSE the US has more Spanish speakers than Spain has. US Population: 307,006,550. Spain population: 45,555,716. Try talking about percentages though, and your argument falls apart rather quickly.

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
GeorgeGee's avatar

Percentages? Argument falling apart? nonsense. Spanish has five official languages, including not only Spanish, but also Catalan/Valencian, Basque, Galician, and Aranese. While Basque is included as an official language, the Basques comprise only about 2% of the population. The Spanish speaking population of the US is nearly 20%.

iamthemob's avatar


They may be only 2%, but you KNOW they were going to be counted – otherwise I think the secession push would have been even MORE significant.

bob_'s avatar

@GeorgeGee That has to do with Spain having autonomous communities. I wouldn’t say that the the argument for making Spanish a second official language is invalid because of the relatively low percentage of speakers, but then I also wouldn’t say that the fact that many people speak it justifies it.

MrItty's avatar

@GeorgeGee False, on multiple accounts

Spanish speakers in the US: 10.7%

Spanish speakers in Spain: 74%

In addition, Spanish is the only national official language of Spain. Catalan (17%), Galician (7%), and Basque (2%), are official regionally, much like Hawaiian is an official language of the state of Hawaii.

GeorgeGee's avatar

Wikipedia states 50 million Spanish speakers in the USA, plus 7,820,000 students. 50 million is 16.28 percent of the population. Source:

And though you’re spitting out “Spanish speakers in Spain 74%,” the percentage of Spanish speakers there was not in question. The fact that they recognize as an official language, Basque, at only 2% of the population is much more relevant. And what I said was that the US has more Spanish speakers than Spain, which it does. IF your figure of 74% is correct, there are only about 33 million Spanish speakers in Spain versus 50 million here. But since you’re having trouble understanding this, maybe your English skills need some work.
You don’t quote a source for your statistic but clearly it’s out of date. The US Census bureau says: “48.4 million million: The estimated Hispanic population of the United States as of July 1, 2009, making people of Hispanic origin the nation’s largest ethnic or race minority. Hispanics constituted 16 percent of the nation’s total population. In addition, there are approximately 4 million residents of Puerto Rico, a Carribbean U.S. territory.”

bob_'s avatar

@GeorgeGee No, Basque is not a national official language. See here. But even if it were, would that justify making Spanish an official language, because some 10 to 16 percent of the population speak it? I fail to see the logical connection.

MrItty's avatar

@GeorgeGee I don’t “quote a source” for my statistic? I LINKED the source – the CIA official website. Sorry, but that’s significantly more trustworthy than your Wikipedia article. Try again.

And one more time, since you are clearly in need of reading comprehension skills – Basque is NOT an official national language. It is an official REGIONAL language, just like Hawaiian is here in the US.

mattbrowne's avatar

This makes only sense in certain regions. Like Navajo in the four corners area.

GeorgeGee's avatar

@MrItty, If you had bothered to actually read the CIA site instead of just pulling out numbers and posting them, you would have noted that their site clearly states the date of the figures for language percentage as 2000. While you blindly cite ten year old statistics, I cited not only the number in Wikipedia (which has 5 references) but also figures from the US Census, dated 2009. Also note that the CIA describes Spanish/Hispanic/Latino population as 15.1% based on a 2007 statistic. This rose to 16% in 2009 in the Census figures I provided. Notice a trend here? Or are you happy prancing around thinking it’s the year 2000?

bob_'s avatar

@MrItty @GeorgeGee

This is veering off-topic. Leaving aside the question of just how many people speak Spanish, how would that justify anything? Is there a cut-off value?

GeorgeGee's avatar

Well one possible interpretation is to say if we were talking about a mere few thousand people, we could easily say “provide remedial English classes to them, and continue to support a de-facto English-based country.” But to do that with this large of a population is to disempower the second largest body of Spanish speakers in the world; it’s of a larger magnitude than if you told all of Spain that they couldn’t speak Spanish any more. It’s something of a cultural survival issue. Personally I believe the world is richer for the fact that there are different cultures and different languages around the world, and the challenges of communicating are becoming less and less a factor as computer translation improves; there are already Google Android apps to instantly translate any text that you can take a picture of with your phone, for instance.
As a side note, if you notice the rapid growth of the Spanish/Hispanic/Latino population in the USA, even if you discount legal and illegal immigration, we reach a point in the not too distant future where Spanish could be the language of the majority in this country, and if everyone were to vote, the Spanish majority could then reasonably vote for ONLY Spanish to be recognized as the official language in the USA. That would be an interesting twist as well.

GeorgeGee's avatar

And yo @bob… Basque (also known as Euskara) certainly IS an officially recognized language of Spain, and it says so in the link YOU yourself posted.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
bob_'s avatar

@GeorgeGee While I’m all for cultural diversity, I’d say that making any language an official language (English isn’t, by the way), would be a mistake. People won’t stop speaking Spanish if it’s not recognized by the law.

The link I posted says ”Spanish is official throughout the country; the rest of these have co-official status in their respective regions” [emphasis added]. But if you insist that it’s national, fine, let’s go with that. I couldn’t care less.

bob_'s avatar

I couldn’t edit my previous post to add this clip, from The West Wing: you don’t need laws to protect a language.

GeorgeGee's avatar

Basque is co-official along with Spanish by National law, not merely by the will of the people within that region. So for example, national road signs appear in both languages there, and post offices are staffed with people who can speak both.

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