If you’ve never found yourself in a heated debate over whether it’s better to learn Chinese or Spanish, you’re unfashionably late to the party. It’s hard to read a book on parenting these days without breaching the subject, yet so many adults still haven’t taken a leap of faith in either direction.
Why not, though? It’s hard to deny in this age of the Internet that the global marketplace is more accessible than ever, and that a second (or third) language is a necessity to thrive. So what’s keeping so many of us in perpetual hesitation? Maybe we think we’re too old, too busy, or maybe we’re just plain lazy. But maybe we’re just stuck wondering: Chinese, or Spanish?
The answer doesn’t seem easy, and those of us living in the United States have had far too many years of selfish comfort in knowing that English is the most widely spoken language in the world. While that may not change in this lifetime or the next, if you don’t think you’re already living in a country where Spanish should be a mandatory language, you’re kidding yourself.
The base statistics are easy to cover. Spanish is far and away the second most spoken language in our country, with over twelve percent of the people living here speaking it as their first language. Their first language. Chinese speaking people, by comparison, make up less than 1% of the population. Let’s put this into perspective. If the Spanish speaking population stopped growing altogether, it would take the Chinese speaking population around sixty years to catch up at its current growth rate. By then, many of us would already be dearly departed from this world, second language or not.
You may be thinking, “But China has a population of over one billion, the largest in the world.” True, the Spanish speaking world population of only four-hundred-some million pales in magnitude when considered against the behemoth citizenship of China. But Spanish is the official spoken language of twenty countries, whereas Mandarin Chinese – the most widely spoken Chinese dialect – is only an official language of three. Even when leaving the comfort of our largely Spanish speaking homeland, chances are much higher we’ll wind up in a country where Spanish is important than in one where Chinese is.
You may then say, “But China has an incredibly bullish economy and is home to the largest bank in the world.” It’d be difficult to argue with that, but it may help to know that Santander Bank of Spain has over seven hundred branches in the United States, whereas the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China has around one hundred branches worldwide outside of China. Only thirteen of those are in the U.S., and only two states – New York and California – have coverage.
While business in China is inarguably growing at a more impressive rate than any Spanish speaking country, here in the U.S., Hispanic owned businesses account for the largest number of minority owned firms. And though Spanish speaking countries may not boast the biggest business returns in the world, that doesn’t stop them from helping millions of Americans enjoy some of our favorite pastimes. In fact, the next time you’re enjoying an Entenmann’s cookie or tossing around a Rawlings baseball, you may want to say, “Gracias.”
Today, Spanish is the most widely studied language in the U.S., with more than fifteen times the amount of people studying Spanish over Chinese. You may be out of high school, but it’s not too late to join the popular crowd. Save the debate for your children, put down this article, and go take some spanish classes. It’d be un-American not to.