AroAro wrote:Yes, I know these numbers but it is still a puzzle. I'm speaking from the perspective of a not so important country in the middle of Europe. Offering to kids Spanish in schools - language of a country lying on the outskirts of the continent, with shaky economy and high unemployment rate is not something I can logically grasp. Schools could offer just as well Hindi/Urdu because it has a similar number of speakers and I can assure you that Latin America (where most of these native Spanish speakers live) is just as exotic to us as India, China or Japan.
I suspect that may be due to the popularity of Spain as a tourist destination combined with the (relative) simplicity of Spanish when we're talking about Europeans learning Spanish.
Obviously in the Americas it's a bit of a different story.
Tourism probably plays a part, but Spanish is not simple, at least for Norwegians, and in Norway Spanish started to get really popular already in the 1980s, when I started learning it. There were two types of Spanish students I met at the university back then: those who loved Spain because of its culture, its people and their way of life, and those who had been to Latin America as volunteers in a peace project or relief effort and planned on returning to help poor and oppressed people in Central American republics like Nicaragua or El Salvador. Also, let us not underestimate the economy of Spain. Sure, they have a lot of problems, but looking at the big picture thy have had an incredible growth since they became a democracy less than 50 years ago, and Spain has made and is making a lot of contributions to science, medicine and engineering as well as literature, cinema and music. They are an important player in the EU and other international organisations, and Spanish is one of the five official languages out the UN.
My point is that although socio-economic status can be important, cultural and political aspects are just as important. Obviously, in school they will mostly offer the "important" languages, which in Europe are English, French, Spanish and German, probably in that order at least in the Nordic countries. I am not surprised that Spanish is one of them.
Personally, leaving aside those languages I learnt in school, I have never thought about socio-economic factors when choosing to learn a language. For me it is about the cultural richness of the language, its literature or, as in the case of Romansh, the fascination with a really small minority language with unique linguistic features and a quite vibrant cultural scene in spite of the very limited number of speakers.