Number of Spanish-Speakers In The U.S. – Lots Of Guesses
By Frank Gómez
Ask 10 people how many people speak Spanish in the United States and you will get 10 different numbers. They range from the very vague “Oh, 10 million or more,” to a high of “about 55 million.” The Research Institute of United States Spanish (www.riuss.org) estimates that there are 40 million Spanish speakers in the U.S.
Now, getting the number right is important. Advertisers spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year to reach Hispanic consumers. Banks have ATM machines that transact business in Spanish – and other languages. And companies, hospitals, service organizations – you name it – have that pesky telephone message to push 1 for Spanish.
In early July, Bustle carried an article about the failure of the White House to restore the Spanish language website that it took down hours after President Trump took office. The article, however, cited an Associated Press analysis of White House Spanish language tweets that found many errors in grammar, spelling and vocabulary.
But what caught my eye was this statement in the article: “At a 2015 Republican primary debate, Trump said that ‘this is a country where we speak English, not Spanish.’ That same year, the research firm Instituto Cervantes found that the United States is home to 52.6 million Spanish speakers, more than in all of Spain.”
The biggest problem here is that 52.6-million figure. It may have come from the Instituto Cervantes, but regardless it is inaccurate. Most reliable reports, including the United States Census and the Pew Hispanic Center, say the figure is about 35 million. The 52.6 million approximates the nearly 59 million Hispanics in the country today; cite a number a few years back and maybe that is what you find.
Another problem is that the Instituto Cervantes is not a research institute. It is a very prestigious and highly respected arm of the Government of Spain that promotes Spanish culture and the Spanish language around the world. Why the reporter chose to go to the Instituto Cervantes boggles. While we should applaud the AP for an important story, we should also decry its scholarship.
And finally, then candidate Trump’s statement about “… we speak English, not Spanish” belies an important reality in our country. We are not monolingual. We are, in fact, a very bilingual country, albeit not officially bilingual like Canada. We should take our cue from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who speaks fluent French and English. His government – his country – celebrate diversity and the contributions of immigrants, including Spanish-speakers.
Frank Gómez is a founding member of the board of directors of the Research Institute of United States Spanish.