The Americas is a very large continent; it has 35 countries and very different languages. Some countries, such as Brazil, have only one official language: Portuguese. In other countries, such as Canada or Puerto Rico, people may speak English and/or another language like French or Spanish. In some rare circumstances, a country can even have three or more official languages. This is the case of Bolivia where people speak in Spanish and other native indigenous language, such as Quechua or Aymara.
This continent and its languages have a very special history. It is not surprising that after the violent colonization that started when Christopher Columbus arrived to the Americas, the European expansion began over its territory which was split into smaller territories taken by European countries. Therefore, most of the spoken languages in this continent, as Spanish, English and French, are the mother tongue of the conquerors. The Americas has also received millions of immigrants during the last centuries; therefore, native and foreign languages blended and created new words and accents.
People may think that English is the most spoken language in the Americas because the United States has the largest population, more than 300 million people, but they forget that most of the countries from the whole continent are Spanish speaking countries.. Another aspect that people may not know is that there are many indigenous languages that are still spoken by a lot of Americans and which are an important element in the history of the continent’s languages.
Here is the list of the six most spoken languages in the Americas:
This may come as a surprise but over 418 million people speak Spanish in the Americas. Spain was the first and main conqueror of the continent, which defined the language that many countries speak at present. You can find many different accents across the continent, but from South to North –from Argentina and Chile to Mexico– people speak the same language and can understand each other properly.
Nowadays, 19 out of the 35 countries from the Americas consider Spanish their official language. Argentina, Mexico and Perú are the countries with larger population of Spanish speakers: they sum up over 186 million Spanish speakers.
Furthermore, in the United States there are also a great number of Spanish speakers. They are mainly located in the states that belonged to the viceroy of Spain or to those which have received Latinamerican immigrants. In New Mexico, 46% of the population speaks Spanish, followed by 38% in California and Texas, and 30% in Arizona.
Map: Spanish speakers in the Americas
More than 280 million people speak this language in the Americas. As we mentioned before, the United States is the country with the largest population in America, and this is why this language is clearly second in the ranking.
Britain took control over countries of North, Central and South America during the colonization. And even some countries like Jamaica recognize the Queen of England as their head of state today.
Most of Portuguese speakers live in one country: Brazil. But don’t forget that Brazil has 209 million inhabitants, and that’s the total amount of Portuguese speakers in the whole continent.
As Spain, Portugal was one of the first countries to invade the Americas. Unfortunately for them, they lost their Canada and the Caribbean colonies to other nations but kept Brazil in their empire for a very long time. Their accent is totally different, but Brazil is the country with most Portuguese speakers in the world, surpassing Portugal!
In comparison to Spanish, English and Portuguese, 14 million speakers are not an impressive number, but that’s how many French speakers there are in America. Its case is similar to Portugal’s: France lost territories to the United States and Brazil but managed to keep what today is a big part of Canada as a colony.
France is also spoken in South America and the Caribbean. The Martinique and Guadalupe islands are still considered part of the French nation.
We don’t know exactly how many people speak Quechua in the present, but experts say there are about 11 to 16 million speakers of this language. You may be aware of its existence because it’s an indigenous native tongue which is mainly spoken in the Andes region in South America. It is one of the oldest languages in the continent and many different ethnic groups still pass the language generation to generation.
Quechua was the mother tongue of the Inca empire, which was the biggest empire before the arrival of Columbus in 1492. Today, this language is spoken by Bolivians, Peruvians, Ecuadorians, Colombians, Chileans and Argentinians.
Map: Regions with Quechua speakers
Guaraní is another indigenous language that is still active to this day. There are 5.6 million Guaraní speakers and is one of Paraguay’s official languages. There are even more people speaking Guaraní than Spanish in that country. Some of them speak both languages and others communicate only in Guaraní. Other countries like Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil have Guaraní speakers as well.