Daniel Franklin argues that if you want to learn another tongue, then Spanish, with nearly 500m speakers, is the best choice ...
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, March/April 2012
Imagine that the Spanish-speaking world was a single country, called Hispanidad. It covers a territory perhaps one-and-a-half times the size of China. Its population is nearly 500m, making it the world’s third most populous country, behind China and India. Among these people, the number of native Spanish-speakers is rising towards 400m; as a mother tongue, only Mandarin Chinese is bigger. Hispanidad also has a rich literature, from Cervantes to Gabriel García Márquez, that is best enjoyed in the original. And you really should see an Almodóvar film without subtitles. Only English and Chinese are more widely used on the internet than Spanish.
So if you are in business, into the arts or just want to join la conversación, the sheer size of Hispanidad is a powerful reason to learn Spanish. But Hispanidad is not a single country. The fact that it spreads across the Americas, Spain and even parts of Africa and Asia makes the case for Spanish stronger still.
After English, it is the most used international language. For tourists it eases and enriches travel in the 20-plus countries where Spanish is a main language (though some may prefer to skip Equatorial Guinea). Students have an enviable choice of stimulating places to hone their Spanish skills, from Venezuela to Argentina to Spain itself.
Not forgetting the United States, the country with the second-largest number of Spanish-speakers (about 50m and rising) after Mexico. Latinos are growing in influence culturally, commercially and politically. Nowadays, would-be presidents make sure to advertise in Spanish: Soy Mitt Romney y apruebo este mensaje.
Even for those with no political ambitions, there is another compelling reason to pick Spanish as your second language: it’s easy (certainly compared with, say, Mandarin). And once you’ve got Spanish, you’re half-way to Italian, French and Portuguese too.
Learn Spanish? ¡Cómo no!, as they say in Hispanidad.
Daniel Franklin is The Economist's executive and business editor, and edits The World in 2012
Photo illustration by Meeson