MADRID - Spanish has become the most spoken language in the world after English – in real life as well as on social networking sites.

It is the second most used language on Twitter, after English, ahead of Portuguese and Japanese. These findings were presented in Madrid last week by the head of the Cervantes Institute, Victor Garcia de la Concha and Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Garcia Maragallo.

The Institute pays a lot of attention to the diffusion of Spanish online, where it has grown by 800% in the last few years and is the third most popular Internet language, behind Mandarin Chinese and English. Facebook plays a significant role in this: out of more than a billion accounts, 80 million are in Spanish. 

After Chinese, Spanish is the second most commonly used language in the world with currently 495 million Spanish speakers, and will represent an estimated 7.5% of the world's population in 2030. “If this trend continues, in three or four generations 10% of the world’s population will understand Spanish, and the United States will be the country with the highest volume of Spanish-speakers, after Mexico,” says de la Concha, former Director of the Royal Spanish Academy, the official institution responsible for regulating the Spanish language.

The United States, which is the world’s second-largest Spanish-speaking country, is mulling the idea of Spanish becoming its second official language for international communication.

“Spanish isn’t just spoken in Spain. Spain only represents 10% of the Spanish speakers worldwide,” said Garcia de la Concha.

There are currently 18 million people who are learning Spanish as a foreign language – an annual growth of 8%. “The demand for Spanish is mostly found among young people, who understand that it will open doors for them in their future international careers,” he said.

Trending in Hong Kong

In addition to the United States, the Cervantes Institute will focus its efforts on the booming Asia-Pacific region, where demand for Spanish instruction is growing fast. The Cervantes Institute, which promotes teaching of the Spanish language in the world, is dependent on the Spanish Ministry for Foreign Affairs. It has decided to center its efforts on Asia, because of the hugely demonstrated interest levels. In 2000, there were only 1,500 university students studying Spanish in the 90 universities that teach the language but now, there are 25,000.

Seventy percent of requests to study Spanish are currently rejected because there are not enough Spanish teachers there to teach them. China “exports” students to 34 Latin American and 22 Spanish universities. Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, the Hispanic culture is trending, says the report, and almost every Hong Kong university is offering Spanish-language courses.

In Japan there are 2,000 language schools teaching Spanish, and they will now have to offer it to all high schools as a foreign language. 

In India, where there is the third largest education system in the world in terms of pupils, the presence of the Spanish language and culture is very recent – but represents a huge market.