When starting to speak about the Spanish as an international language online, it is more or less obvious that it must be widely used by an important community around the world. There has been a continuous increase of its use, and certainly the numbers support this:
Spanish is the third language most used in the Internet, and its presence showed a rise of 1,7% from 2012 to 2017
We could even say that this trend is far from slowing down since, in average, the access to the Internet in Spanish speaking countries of Latin America is still under that of Europe and Spain, 76.9% and 73.5% respectively. Also, the percentage of bilingual websites using Spanish as one of its languages can be an indicator of its importance. In that case, although far from English, Spanish is very close to Russian and German, languages that are a second option in 6.6% and 5.8% of the total bilingual webpages. Spanish scores fourth being present in 5.1% of them.
But what about the Internet users? The case of the social media
The use of Spanish by private profiles in social media varies from one social network to another. Here we will focus on some of the most popular like Twitter and Facebook.
In the case of Twitter, this social media is well known by its immediacy, and more than 300 million people use it worldwide. The impact of Twitter has been recognised by the Time magazine, and presidents and celebrities around the world use it as an official channel of communication.
Spanish scores second as the native language of Twitter users behind English, but far ahead of some languages of prestige like French or German that take sixth and fourteenth positions respectively. Moreover, at the local level of some world cities like New York or London, Spanish still stands in second position. In the case of New York Spanish is even used by non-native speakers given its popularity, starting to be a lingua franca that helps second language speakers to communicate.
Facebook is one of the world most popular social media, gathering more than 2,200 million users. The company group also integrates WhatsApp and Instagram. Facebook also observes English as the main language spoken by its users, followed again by Spanish in second place, and Portuguese and Japanese third and fourth respectively.
Wikipedia is a collaborative network that constitutes a massive repository of articles and voluntary administrators and writers run it. In that case, the number of Spanish articles sits ninth in the ranking. In contrast, the Spanish speaking users constitute the second biggest community of this virtual encyclopedia, so more Spanish articles are expected to arise!
A good side always have a ‘not so good’ counterpart
Spanish is the official language of at least 20 countries, most of them in Latin America but also in Africa, Equatorial Guinea, and of course Spain in Europe. It would be then very naïve to think that Spanish is the only language spoken by the citizens of these countries, but hundreds of other languages, some of the indigenous, and dialects coexist with the official Spanish.
Spanish, working as a common language, is helping to build bridges among communities.
We could say that Spanish is to Latin America and other Spanish speaking countries what mandarin Chinese is to China, where hundreds of minor and not so minor languages also exist. And although this fact can bring many opportunities to people that speak Spanish, it also homogenises the cultural and language richness of very varied communities and territories.
Some minority languages activists are starting to raise their voices in relation to the lack of presence of their languages in the Internet. In the very recent first Latin American Festival of Indigenous Languages on the Internet that took place in 2019, Miguel Ángel Oxlaj Kumez, one of the organizers, declared “When I get on the internet I find more than 90% of the content in English and hence a significant percentage in Spanish and other languages […]. So what I have to do is to move to another language, and that favours the displacement of my own language”.
These are the two sides of the same issue. It is clear that learning a foreign or second language widens our opportunities. But it is also true that the use we do of the languages we speak is not free of consequences in the evolution of languages in a globalize world. It’s time to learn Spanish, but also time to think!
Readings to learn more: