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Spanish is the third-most spoken language in the world, with around 500 million speakers in over twenty countries. Around 90% of Spanish speakers worldwide are from Latin America or the Latin American diaspora in the US, with Mexico and Colombia being the largest countries in population, and Argentina the largest in area. In addition, Spanish is the second-most spoken language in the United States, after English. Spanish is also the dominant language of Puerto Rico, a US territory in the Caribbean.

Outside of the Americas, Spanish is the official language of Equatorial Guinea in Africa and was once an official language of the Philippines in Asia as well. Spain, located in Western Europe, is where the language originated. Today, Spain is the third largest Spanish-speaking country by population.

Stepped Pyramid in Mexico

Spanish is a Romance language, which means it is descended from Latin, the language of the Roman Empire. Other Romance languages include Portuguese, Catalan, French, Italian, and Romanian. Spanish is especially close to Portuguese, and Portuguese is also a major world language spoken in Brazil and several African countries.

While the grammar and most vocabulary of Spanish come from Latin, over time Spanish came to absorb words from languages such as Arabic, Taino, Nahuatl and Quechua, among many others, which reflect where and when the language was spoken. Today, the same phenomenon is happening with English: you will find many English loanwords in Spanish… and many Spanish loanwords in English too!

Spanish in the US

Spanish is the most studied foreign language in the United States. People in the US have good reasons to learn Spanish considering the close ties with neighboring countries and the large Spanish-speaking communities in the US. About 40 million people in the US speak Spanish, and 60 million identified as Hispanic/Latino on the 2020 census.

Different terms are used to describe people in the US with roots in Latin America. Most people have a stronger attachment to their or their family’s country or place of origin than to a pan-ethnic identity, so terms such as Mexican-American, Puerto Rican, Salvadoran-American, Cuban-American, Dominican-American and so on are common. The terms Hispanic and Latino/Latina have been used for several decades as general terms in the US. More recently, the gender-inclusive term Latinx has become common. It is gaining popularity in US colleges and universities.

Interesting Facts

Tower in Spain

In Spanish, both “español” and “castellano” are synonyms for the same language (and we don’t capitalize languages in Spanish!) “Castellano” comes from Castile, the old medieval kingdom in northern Spain where the language originated. Once Castile and its language became dominant in the rest of Spain, people started to refer to the language as Spanish. You will hear “castellano” used in Spain in part out of respect for other languages spoken alongside Spanish in several regions. You will also hear “castellano” used in many South American countries. In the US however, “español” is the dominant term.


One of the widely spread “myth” about Spanish consists in being considered an “easy” language” to learn.. No language is “easy”. All require time and patience to learn, as well as will and dedication to master. It is important to enjoy the process as much as possible and hablar without fear, so the next time someone asks you: “¿Habla español?”, you can proudly reply: “Sí, hablo español”.

Placement Questions:

Because Spanish is the most taught foreign language in the US, many of our students already studied Spanish in high school. In general, one year of high school Spanish is equivalent to one quarter of college Spanish. However, there are many reasons why a student may need to start at a different level than that.

If you would like help with placement, send an email to one of the full-time faculty members (Melissa Massie, or J. Engel Szwaja-Franken, je.szwaja@bellevuecollege.eduIn that message, please communicate:
1. How much Spanish you’ve had.
2. How long it’s been since you had a Spanish class.
Then we can begin a discussion about the best placement for you.


Last Updated August 24, 2021