Although ‘dos cervezas por favor’ has long been part of the Brit abroad’s vocabulary, the extent of Spanish fluency usually ends there. As with most other languages, there seems to be an assumption that foreigners have an obligation to speak or at the very least understand English. Why would they not? Throughout recent memory, popular culture has been dominated globally by the English language. Industry was dominated by the United States and any true international superstars were almost exclusively English speakers. Thus, even though other languages had a similar number or even more native speakers, English has been the unrivalled second language of the world for many years. Nevertheless, the more Latin America grows, the greater its effect on the USA where there are now more than 53 million native Spanish speakers. This dramatic uptake in numbers of Spanish speakers has led to an undoubtable Spanish cultural boom.
In days gone by, Spanish-speaking singers had to accept that to become a global star they would first have to master English. Take Shakira whose worldwide breakthrough album ‘Laundry Service’ (2001) was her first English language album and sold 13,000 000 copies, more than her previous two Spanish-speaking albums combined (12,000 000). By singing in Spanish, she capped her popularity at the number of people living in the Americas as the Spanish language had little to no penetration overseas. Compare that to today, where two of the top ten most-streamed artists in the world, are Hispanic rappers who have achieved superstar status without the need to speak English. J Balvin and Bad Bunny are proof that Spanish speakers no longer have to learn another language to be involved in Global pop culture. There are numerous other examples. The most popular show on Netflix in 2020 doesn’t come from Hollywood but Madrid. With 63 million views, ‘La Casa de Papel’ is further proof that Spanish is gaining purchase in popular culture. Nevertheless, despite the large number of Spanish speakers across the globe, there is no real Spanish economic powerhouse. Unlike English, German, or even Mandarin, Spanish could hardly be described as an international business language. However, this may be set to change with almost a quarter of the ten largest emerging economies speaking Spanish. If economic growth can match the boom in Hispanic culture over the last few years, it is undoubtedly that the value of fluency in Spanish will increase.
So is Spanish going to overtake English as the world’s most spoken second language? Well, most likely no. At least not in the foreseeable future. It is not my suggestion that people will listen to Daddy Yankee and all of a sudden gain the burning desire to learn fluent Spanish. In fact, reggaetón is more likely to inspire the opposite feeling in most rational people. However, by creating a self-sufficient bubble of Music, television, film, and sport, Spanish speakers will slowly begin to lose the necessity to learn English. A similar phenomena might well be observed elsewhere in the world with the rise of K-pop and J-pop. It cannot be denied that global pop culture is diversifying from La Rosalía to BTS to Saul Canelo Alvarez, some of the globe’s most deified figures simply don’t operate in English. So, while a rudimentary knowledge of local beers and a few lessons on Duolingo might suffice for now, it might be time to stop assuming that everyone speaks English. Even if only to avoid watching your dad resort to making animal noises at an exasperated Spanish waiter.