As of 2016, around 470 million people around the world speak Spanish as a first language. Around 570 million speak it as either a first or second language. It is actually considered to be the second most spoken native language in the world, behind Mandarin in first place!
The language originated in Castile, Spain, and has developed over the years into the language (and dialects) known today.
Other than Spain, Spanish is an official language throughout most of the Southern Hemisphere. It is the main official language in Latin America. In fact, it is the sole official language in the majority of countries there. While not an official language, there are quite a number of Spanish speakers in southern parts of the US.
It is also one of six official languages in the United Nations, while being one of the official languages of the European Union, Union of South American Nations, the Organization of American States, and many other international institutes and organisations.
Spanish is a Romance language. It is part of the Ibero-Romance language family, taking root from Iberia’s Vulgar Latin. There are traces of the language in textbooks dating back to the 9th century, with main evidence of the language in the 13th century around Toledo, former capital of Castile.
There are also some connections to the Arabic languages and dialects. In fact, 8% of the language has origins in Arabic. It has also picked up wording and phrases from other Romance languages, especially Italian and French.
Spanish is a language with a variety of dialects and language variations. Many of the dialects are not interchangeable between countries, but they are interchangeable and understandable within individual countries. For example, Spanish speakers from Spain will not necessarily understand Mexican or Argentinean Spanish. The dialect with the most speakers interestingly is Mexican Spanish! At least 112 million people speak this dialect.
Within Spain, the northern dialects are the most popular, as they are closer to Standard Spanish. Over the last few decades more people are picking up the southern Spanish dialects. On TV and radio in Spain, Madrid’s dialect is the most commonly heard and it has also influenced most of the writing styles.
Spanish is one of the easier languages to learn. It is taught to many young children in schools and there are thousands of people learning it on the side as a second, third, or even fourth language.
The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) recommends 23-24 weeks of full-time learning to become proficient in the Spanish language. This means around 575-600 hours of study and it is classed as a Category I language, which means it is fairly close to the English language.