The Role of the Spanish Language in the USA?

What is the significance of learning Spanish in the USA? Does proficiency in the language offer a competitive edge in the professional arena? In 2019, I spent two months in the USA. During my stay, I noticed that English was the predominant language, even though the USA does not have an official language. However, English effectively functioned as the de facto official language. The only instance I encountered Spanish was when we hired a cleaning service on a Sunday, and the workers, who were Mexican, spoke it. I understand Mexico is a neighboring country, but my question pertains specifically to the context within the USA. Do Americans learn Spanish out of curiosity, or is it driven by a genuine interest in foreign languages?



Say you wanted to be a job-site construction project manager, or oversee roofers, or landscapers, or farm workers… Or say you wanted to work in public education or healthcare.


Many universities require 2 years of a foreign language as a prerequisite to graduation. Spanish, French and German have been popular choices. However now, most universities offer other languages as well, and a student is generally able to pick which one to concentrate on.

Many Americans and non-Americans who live and work or live and do other things in the USA, speak their native language for everything that they need to do in the USA. Many Americans, native or otherwise are not fluent or functional in English. Some of those are native born, but most were born and raised outside of the US.

Most Americans who don’t have not an academic or economic requirement to study a foreign language don’t study Spanish or any “foreign language”, don’t learn any foreign language.

My father studied German because it was the common choice for people going into medicine. Others of his generation might have studied Russian because they majored in mathematics.

Later my father studied Spanish, years and years after pracicing medicne, for pleasure, as a challenge, and maybe because it was useful from time to time in his practice–patients, family members of patients, hospital staff, when traveling to predominantly Spanish-speaking countries.

As you experienced, English was the language you needed to do what you wanted to do in the USA. However, you did encounter people, circumstantially, who did not speak English, such as the cleaner/housekeeper that you mentioned.

In my opinoion, outside of need to know a langauge other than English (for profession and/or academis) , most native speakers of English who reside in the USA do not work at acquiring/learning any other language.

The reasons are usually academic or work related or even family related but, rarely just fore the helluvit, so to speak.

An American living in the USA might marry someone whose parents don’t speak English, so they might be inspired to learn the language that his or her inlaws speak. An American living in the USA might want to know a foregn language that members of his or her non-English family members speak.

As an adult, learning/acquiring a foreign language has to be more than a phrase book when traveling, more than a whim. It takes work.

Most English speaking Americans do not work at Spanish out of curiosity. Nevertheless knowing both Spanish and English are advantageous for anyone living in the USA.


Other than English, Spanish is by far the most commonly spoken language in the USA. It is relatively easy to learn for English speakers, and since opportunities to learn and speak it are pretty much everywhere, and since being bilingual in Spanish and English is advantageous for most customer-facing job opportunities, one cannot but wonder why so many people in the US choose NOT to learn Spanish. Not that everyone should reach native-like proficiency, but even some knowledge of basic sentences and phrases is extremely useful and opens doors and hearts.

Of course, second language choice is determined by many factors…

Edited to add: Wow, several excellent answers were written while I was still typing this.


This is the politically correct answer given by Perplexity:

Learning Spanish is highly significant in the USA for several reasons:

  1. Large and Growing Spanish-Speaking Population: The US has a large and rapidly growing Spanish-speaking population, with over 60 million native and second-language Spanish speakers as of 2022. Spanish is the second most spoken language in the US after English.
  2. Career Opportunities: Proficiency in Spanish is a valuable asset in many industries, including healthcare, education, business, and customer service. Bilingual employees often command higher salaries compared to monolingual counterparts.
  3. Cultural Understanding: Learning Spanish provides insights into the rich Hispanic and Latin American cultures that are deeply embedded in American society, especially in regions like the Southwest, Florida, and Texas. This cultural awareness can foster greater inclusion and community engagement.
  4. Travel and Business: Spanish is the official language of over 20 countries. Knowing Spanish can facilitate travel, business, and professional opportunities in Latin America and Spain.
  5. Educational and Personal Benefits: For students, learning Spanish can open doors to bilingual education programs and enhance cognitive abilities. On a personal level, it allows individuals to connect with Spanish-speaking family, friends, and communities.

This is a more appropriate answer.

I don’t think so. But if you want to work in social services, or where dealing with hispanic communities, that’s might be useful. A part from a cultural aspect, but that’s another thing.

Consider that, according to current data, there are 12 million illegal immigrants in US, and between 80-90% of these speak Spanish. And these are the official numbers. Those would probably speak only Spanish, additional to another 20 million of naturalised that would speak predominantly Spanish, with their families speaking both languages.

Generally, Spanish is the second most spoken language in US, but with a percentage of 13% of the population. Even though United States don’t have an official language at federal level, English is de facto the main language, and many individual States have recognised English as the official language.

I guess, it’s an elaborate answer.


The reverse coin, Messi speaks English. :rofl:


@asad100101 There’s plenty of Spanish in the US. Granted I’ve spent most of my life in the Sunbelt.

Every time I call a public utility or government office I have the opportunity to hear a message in Spanish. Election ballots are always available in Spanish. Finding Spanish programming on the radio or TV is not difficult.

Any public-facing officer or employee benefits from Spanish fluency.

Americans learn Spanish if they are motivated to do so. However, most Americans encounter Spanish somewhere in K-12 and that education doesn’t work much better here than anywhere else.

My father, a New Mexican, spoke Spanish before English. Yet he didn’t teach me. That was the Melting Pot style in those days. I now think, I coulda had a free language! But I understand that point of view too.


Some context:
"The United States has now 52.6 million Spanish-speakers, surpassing Spain and becoming the country with the largest number of Spanish-speakers, second only to Mexico… " Yes, more than Spain!

If trends continue “roughly 1 out of every 3 Americans will be a Spanish-speaker by 2050”

In 2022 the “Latino” GDP in the US was greater than the GDP of all but 5 countries in the world.

Spanish is a big deal and getting bigger. Recently with labor shortages and the influx of monolingual Spanish speaking immigrants I encounter more an more workers who only speak Spanish, even in environments where English would have been required a few years ago.

It can, though there are more and more who speak it so there is not a shortage of “supply” in this sense. However, with the recent demographic trends and trends towards nearshoring MFG to Mexico from China, demand will also increase. In general the combination of Spanish language with another in-demand skill will allow some to find lucrative niches.

Most Spanish speakers in the US are Hispanic, though Spanish is also the most commonly spoken language amongst non-hispanic bilinguals here as well.

I am not Hispanic, and I do learn for curiosity and out of interest in the language. While I don’t have an economic interest in learning Spanish, I do feel like I benefit from it greatly. I love to travel, but at my age with a busy life with my wife and kids, other loved ones, businesses and so on, it is difficult to do as much travel for pleasure as I would like. However, my favorite aspects of travel are interacting with people and culture. I can do that without traveling by joining groups of Spanish speakers right here in my own hometown. I hang out with Spanish speakers from all over the Spanish speaking world and I love it!