5 Countries Where Spanish Is Spoken But Not Official

Language Use Extends Beyond Spain and Latin America

Spanish is the official or de facto national language in 20 countries, most of them in Latin America but one each also in Europe and Africa. Here's a quick look at how Spanish is used in five more countries where it is influential or important without being an official national language.

Spanish in the United States

Spanish in the United States
Sign at election polling station in Orlando, Fla. Eric (HASH) Hersman/Creative Commons

With 41 million native speakers of Spanish and another 11.6 million who are bilingual, the United States has become the world's second-largest Spanish-speaking country, according to a 2015 report of the Cervantes Institute. It is second only to Mexico and is ahead of Colombia and Spain in third and fourth places.

Although it doesn't have official status except in the semiautonomous territory of Puerto Rico and in New Mexico (technically, the U.S. doesn't have an official language), Spanish is alive and healthy in the U.S. It is by far the most widely learned second language in U.S. schools; speaking Spanish is an advantage in numerous jobs such as those in health, customer service, agriculture and tourism; advertisers increasingly target Spanish-speaking audiences; and Spanish-language television frequently garners higher ratings than the traditional English-language networks.

As to the future of Spanish in the United States, that's a matter of debate. Although the U.S. Census Bureau has projected that there could be 100 million U.S. Spanish speakers by 2050, there is reason to be skeptical that will occur. Although Spanish-speaking immigrants in most parts of the U.S. can get along well with minimal knowledge of English, their children typically become fluent in English and end up speaking English in their homes, meaning that by the third generation a fluent knowledge of Spanish is often lost.

Even so, Spanish has been in the area now called the U.S. longer than English has, and all indications are that it will continue to be the preferred language for tens of millions.

Spanish in Belize

Spanish in Belize
Mayan ruins at Altun Ha, Belize. Steve Sutherland/Creative Commons

Formerly known as British Honduras, Belize is the only country in Central America that doesn't have Spanish as its national language. The official language is English, but the most widely spoken language is Kriol, an English-based creole that includes elements of indigenous languages.

About 30 percent of Belizeans speak Spanish as a native language, although about half of the population can converse in Spanish. Because of its Central American location, British influence and ethnic diversity, Belize has an unusually high percentage of people who are bilingual or multilingual.

Spanish in Andorra

Andorra la Vella
A hillside in Andorra la Vella, Andorra. Joao Carlos Medau/Creative Commons.

A principality with a population of only 85,000, Andorra, nestled in the mountains between Spain and France, is one of the world's smallest countries. Although the the official language of Andorra is Catalan — a Romance language spoken mostly along the Mediterranean costs of Spain and France — about a third of the population speaks Spanish natively, and it is widely used as a lingua franca among those who don't speak Catalan. Spanish is also widely used in tourism.

French and Portuguese also are used in Andorra.

Spanish in the Philippines

Manila in
Manila, capital of the Philippines. John Martinez Pavliga/Creative Commons.

A look at the basic statistics — out of 100 million people, only about 3,000 are native Spanish speakers — might suggest Spanish is of little influence on the Philippines' linguistic scene. But the opposite is true: Spanish was an official language as recently as 1987 (it still has a protected status along with Arabic), and thousands of Spanish words have been adopted into the national language of Filipino and various local languages. Filipino also uses the Spanish alphabet, including the ñ, with the addition of ng to represent an indigenous sound.

Spain ruled the Philippines for more three centuries, ending with the Spanish-American war in 1898. The use of Spanish diminished during the subsequent U.S. occupation, when English was taught in schools. As Filipinos reasserted control, they adopted the indigenous Tagalog language to help unite the country; a version of Tagalog known as Filipino (sometimes called Pilipino) is official along with English, which is used in government and some mass media.

Among the many Filipino or Tagalog words borrowed from Spanish are panyolito (handkerchief, from pañuelo), eksplika (explain, from explicar), tindahan (store, from tienda), miyerkoles (Wednesday, miércoles) and tarheta (card, from tarjeta). It is also common to use Spanish when stating the time.

Spanish in Brazil

Carnaval in Brazil
Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Nicolas de Camaret/Creative Commons

Don't routinely try using Spanish in Brazil — Brazilians speak Portuguese. Even so, many Brazilians are able to understand Spanish (anecdotes suggest it is easier for Portuguese speakers to understand Spanish than the other way around), and Spanish is extensively used in tourism and international business communications. A blend of Spanish and Portuguese called portuñol is often spoken in areas on both sides of the borders with Brazil's Spanish-speaking neighbors.