Spanish has official language status in 22 countries across the world. It's spoken in Europe, parts of Africa, and all over the Americas. Spanish is the first language of 400-450 million people, making it the world's second most popular language after Mandarin.

Spanish is becoming an increasingly popular subject choice for students.  Learning Spanish online has seen an increase of 800 percent in the last few years, and it’s now the third most popular language on the internet after Mandarin and English.

Within the next 20 to 30 years, ten percent of the world's population will speak or understand Spanish. Being able to communicate with such a vast amount of people is a very useful skill within an ever more connected world. Language skills are something that many employers value and speaking Spanish is an excellent way of standing out in highly competitive job markets.  A survey by Strategy + Business found 96 percent of employers “thought language skills are either very important or somewhat important for professional success in the current business environment.”

So here are five possible career paths for Spanish-speaking students.

1. Business

Spanish is spoken all over the globe. It’s an official language of the UN, the EU, the Organization of American States, and the Union of South American Nations. If you want to work anywhere in the world, speaking Spanish will give  you a competitive edge. Even if you’re working in a non-Spanish speaking country, knowing the language is still a huge benefit. The world is getting smaller every day, and in today's global economy businesses are looking further afield for new markets and customers, many of which will be in Spanish speaking countries.  Being able to communicate with potential business partners, suppliers, and customers more effectively opens the door to more opportunities and more potential for success.

Students who would like to work in the US should seriously consider learning or improving their Spanish. The Hispanic population is set to double by 2050 and will make up approximately 30 percent of the overall population. That’s a considerable chunk of the marketplace. Considering the potential buying power of the Hispanic market, it's unsurprising that in 2014 Spanish was the most requested language in US job postings.

With over 113 million native speakers, Mexico is the world's largest Spanish speaking country. Mexico also has a vast network of bilateral trade agreements, meaning they have some of the most open trade in the world.

2. Communication, Journalism, and Public Relations

The ability to communicate with such a vast amount of Spanish speakers is vital for businesses, media outlets, and government institutions. A US study by Monster.com found public relations is the top result when people listed Spanish on their resumes. Some companies are even creating new public relations departments and marketing campaigns specifically designed for Hispanic consumers. One of the best examples is Dunkin Donuts. In 2014, they launched the Twitter handle @DunkinLatino, which now has over 31k followers and communicates exclusively in Spanish.

But speaking a second language is about more than just selling products or raising brand awareness. A growing number of Spanish speakers creates an increasing need for news and information that directly addresses these communities. In places like the USA, reporters who can speak English and Spanish have a significant advantage over those who don't.  Being bilingual can help you secure important interviews, understand more angles of the story or issue, and then report it in a way that reflects the concerns and hopes of Spanish speaking people.

And while speaking basic Spanish will help any reporter, having a deep understanding of the language will profoundly increase your ability to write a story. There are Spanish words that don't have a direct equivalent in English. The word "Sombreso" is an excellent example. In English, in which there is no direct translation, it translates as 'the moment after eating a meal when the food is gone, but the conversation is still flowing at the table'.

3. Healthcare

In 2014, the International Journal of Healthcare Quality published an article that showed how unaddressed language barriers could lead to low quality, unsafe, and costly healthcare. They compared English speakers to those with limited English skills and found the latter were at higher risk of line infections, surgical infections, falls, pressure ulcers, and surgical delays. Moreover, there were higher instances of readmissions for certain chronic conditions among non-native English speakers. The study argued this was due to difficulties with understanding how to manage their health and take their medications.

Many of these issues are directly related to a language barrier. Lauren Micale is bone marrow transplant coordinator who has experienced such problems first-hand. In one instance, a Spanish-speaking mother told Lauren she had noticed some blood in her child stool, something the doctors were not aware of. Blood in the stool can be a symptom of potentially life-threatening infections. Thankfully, Lauren had started learning Spanish in grade school and was able to relay this vital piece of information to the doctors, who then treated the problem.

Spanish speaking medical professionals can ensure that patients are diagnosed and treated correctly. This also prevents any indirect discrimination and can help create a more efficient and cost-effective health service. It's also an excellent way of building empathy and trust between a healthcare professional and their patients:  

“As a nurse who speaks Spanish, I can explain to patients and families what I am doing,”  said Lauren. “I’m also able to build trust and advocate for them with the team.”

4.  Hospitality and Tourism

For obvious reasons, the hospitality and tourism industry values bilingual employees. Considering Spanish is the world's second most popular language, there are plenty of opportunities for those that speak it. Hotels, bars, restaurants, and spas are just some of the places frequented by Spanish-speaking tourists. In some areas of the USA, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Miami, Spanish is the first language for many residents. Being able to communicate with them means you can offer a better customer experience, which drives up sales and brand awareness. Any hospitality business that hires Spanish speaking employees is automatically expanding its customer base.

The hospitality and tourism industry is about making people feel good. Restaurants and hotels thrive off creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Just exchanging a few words with a customer in their native tongue will make a good first expression. Conversing with them fluently is an excellent way of securing their return business.

In addition to the food and service industries, Spanish speakers can build a  career as a travel agent, cultural events coordinator, translator, or tour guide. And there’s plenty of money to be made. In 2016, the revenue generated by residents of Spain on international travel and tourism totaled over 18 billion euros.

5. Diplomacy and International Relations

Sergio Vieira de Mello was a Brazilian United Nations diplomat who worked for the UN for more than 34 years. He earned an excellent reputation for his efforts in the humanitarian and political programs of the UN, and it's fair to say he knew a few things about communicating with different people. He says, “First, you have to learn the language. Language is the key to a people’s culture, and culture is key to people’s hearts. If you force them to speak your language, you will never win their sympathy.”

Such an approach is crucial for native English speakers, who aren't renowned for their second language skills. As a result, The UK Foreign Office has several language centers which train foreign diplomats before they begin working overseas. It has around 1,000 students each year and places a strong emphasis on Mandarin, Arabic, and Spanish.

The art of international diplomacy is a subtle one. It's about building and maintaining relationships, as well as understanding other peoples motives, intentions, and possible deceptions. Every culture does things slightly differently, and each culture expresses and defines its character through its language.  So as Sergio Vieira de Mello points out, you can't fully understand anyone if you don't understand their language.

Spanish speaking diplomats can find themselves working in Europe, North Africa, the Americas, and even China.

These are just five of the careers options available for Spanish speakers. Given how many speak the language, it’s sure to be a useful skill in many industries, and especially if you'd like to pursue a career abroad. But even if you don't use your Spanish skills in your job, there are many benefits to being bilingual. Speaking two or more languages has been linked to improved brain function, including spatial reasoning, working memory, and neural plasticity. It's also connected to cognitive reserve in older adults and can significantly reduce the risk of degenerative brain conditions like dementia and Alzheimer's.