Ultimate Language Trip: Spanish
Spanish is one of the most well-traveled languages, with the Spain’s population accounting for a mere 10% of the estimated 500million that speak it worldwide. If time, money and direct flight paths were no object, where, excluding Spain, could you go to practice your Spanish?
Intrepid exploration and conquistadorial colonozation means that the influence of Spain and the Spanish language scarfs the globe roughly at the equator, setting out an ambitious red-and-yellow trip around the globe.
The first stop on our magical mystery tour is Philip’s Islands. The Philippines was named for King Philip II of Spain in 1543 and was a Spanish colony from 1565 until 1898. From then, Spanish language usage nosedived and you’re admittedly unlikely to hear it on the street today. Yet the influence of Spanish on Filipino dialects is substantial, with thousands of Spanish loanwords. For example Tagalog’s Numero, Kalye and Intindi are Numero, Calle and Entiende in Spanish (Number, Street and Understand in English.) Spanish speakers will understand some Chavacano vocabulary, the only Spanish-based creole in the Philippines and spoken by about 300,000 people. What’s more, Spanish is now unarguably on the rise in the Philippines as it has been reintroduced to the school system.
The buildings bear the indelible mark of Spanish architecture, while culture fans can eat up the many millions of Spanish language documents in the museums and libraries. And city names like Santander, Nueva Valencia, La Paz, Angeles and Sevilla are enough to make you double check the sat nav.
The next logical leap is across the Pacific Ocean to Mexico, from where Spain governed the Philippines for two and half centuries. It’s the most populous speaking Spanish country in the world, with over 120 million native speakers. Visitors to Mexico can drink in the Spanish influences on culture, food and architecture that are written all over the country. In addition, Guadalajara hosts the world’s largest Spanish language book fair every November. The Guadalajara International Book Fair attracts around half a million attendees.
Thanks to colonization and exploration, the rest of South America bar Brazil, Suriname, Guyana and French Guiana is also open to Spanish speakers. For the traveller, South America is a roll call of must sees and world’s biggests, such as The Andes, the Atacama Desert, the Amazon, Angel Falls and Macchu Pichu. The continent is also home to world class and world famous Spanish speaking cities like Bogota, Buenos Aires, La Paz, Lima and Caracas.
Perhaps following an island-hop from Puerto Rico to Cuba, continue on to the Sun Belt of the United States. Spanish first filtered into the US with the colonizers in the 16th and 17th centuries, reinforced over centuries by waves of Hispanic immigration from Mexico, Cuba and Central America. Spanish is the second most used language in the US, and the most widely taught non- English language. The best chances for a Hispanophile to use the language come in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, where over 25% of the population speak Spanish. Unless you’re a fan of 16th century Spanish literature, New Mexico may prove a little tricky. Due to its relative isolation from other Spanish speaking areas, it has retained many elements of 16th and 17th century Spanish, and developed its own vocabulary.
Next, fly over the Atlantic to the small African country of Equatorial Guinea, formerly the colony of Spanish Guinea, where Spanish has been the official language since 1844. Almost 70% of the capital, Malabo, a beautiful city on the rim of a sunken volcano, speak Spanish, and the Spanish influence is visible in the food and local culture. Due to an ongoing fraught political situation, however, it may only be suitable for a quick stop off.
Further north lies one of the most sparsely populated areas in the world, Western Sahara. This coastal African country was colonized by Spain in the 19th century, handed over in 1966 and has been the source of heated dispute ever since between Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). Spanish is common among the Sahrawi people, SADR radio and television are in Spanish, and May’s Sahara Film Festival shows mainly Spanish language films. The Spanish influence shines through in the the capital, El Aaiun, particularly the Spanish-built south side, and old Spanish road signs remain.
A quick hop 100km west of Western Sahara will land you on the go-to holiday spot for sun worshipers and budget-conscious honeymooners, The Canary Islands. This Spanish outpost was colonized in the 1400s and has been an autonomous Spanish community since 1982. Each year it attracts over 12million visitors, not least to February’s Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, which has been celebrated since the earliest European settlements on the islands.
Time to fit in a couple of day trips to the small cities of Ceuta and Manilla, the only Spanish territories on mainland Africa and both heady mixes of Spanish and African culture. Both cities are surrounded by Morocco, where almost 20% of the population speak Spanish as either a native or a second language.
As for Europe, while Spanish is one of the five most taught languages, its native speakers reside mainly in Spain, save for a few enclaves in southwestern France and a high level of common knowledge in Portugal. Still, it is worth noting that Spanish is an official language of the EU. It is also an official language of a plethora of other organizations, including the UN, the African Union, the World Trade Organization, Interpol and the Organization of American States.
Thus concludes our whistle-stop dream tour of Spanish, one of the world’s most far-flung and hard-working languages. Asia, Africa, North South and Central America, Europe and you could even speak Spanish to the hundred odd Argentines that live on Antarctica if you’re really keen. Dizzy? Time for a siesta!