Have You Optimized Your Spanish Language Strategy?

3 min read

G. John Cole

Spanish is the most commonly spoken Romance language on the planet, with only English and Mandarin spoken more widely. Over 400 million people speak Spanish, a figure that is expected to rise to 530m by the year 2050, with nearly one-fifth of them living in the United States. And if geographically- and culturally-diverse groups use Spanish, and with significant regional variations, most forms of Spanish are still universally understood by other Spanish-speaking groups - meaning that the potential to create new learning communities is incredibly promising.

But why would international students choose to study in Spanish? Well, for one thing, many who have Spanish as a second language (around a quarter of all Spanish speakers) find it can be a great way to discover a new culture from the inside out, particularly if it means traveling to a new country to do so. The Spanish vocabulary, syntax, and literature all suggest fresh ways to look at and understanding the world – and deepen your understanding of your native language and culture.

Native Spanish and ELSE (Spanish as a second-language) speakers alike crave opportunities to learn and socialize together. It can relieve a lot of pressure from the shoulders of international students to study in a language that they speak confidently, even if it isn't their mother tongue. Others may be understandably resistant to the dominating effects of English-language international programs.

For Spanish-language programs and schools, the ascendency of Spanish presents unique opportunities for internationalization.  In Latin American, institutions are already feeling the impact of these opportunities and finding that smart marketing strategies can capitalize on international students’ desire to learn in Spanish. The desire for higher levels of access, equity, and quality demanded by students in Latin America also illustrates the ambition of the region’s young entrepreneurs, and recruitment can capitalize on this vibrant academic culture.

Of course, institutions themselves face the challenge of changing with – and ahead of – the times, figuring out the role they must play and the kind of education and experience they need to deliver. The period of expansion and redevelopment instigated by these institutions towards the end of the twentieth century is now ripe for re-assessment and a new phase of development.  The energy that institutions expend on creating overseas opportunities for students should also be directed towards creating smarter program and development strategies, and through fostering meaningful connections with the higher education community within and beyond the region.

Obviously, academic partnerships are an essential part of your strategy.  According to Francisco Marmolejo,  the World Bank’s lead tertiary education specialist and first Mexican fellow of the American Council on Education, “Partnerships between Latin American higher education institutions and higher education institutions in other regions are now no longer a new phenomenon or a novelty; they are a common strategy”  Still it’s important to remember that while partnerships and exchange programs may be an easy way to ensure that your programs enroll qualified applicants, growing these programs and developing true internationalization will require forward-thinking universities and programs to reach out to students directly at the earliest stages of their academic plans. 

This means that, although your program may be offered in Spanish, the initial recruitment steps involve narrowing your target reach and addressing prospective applicants in their own language. Check your standing in the international marketplace and take a look at where your current international students are coming from, and how it is that they came upon your school in the first place. To optimize your goals and gain invaluable insight and reach, consider partnering with a specialized education marketing provider. This can help you to maximize the potential of your strategy and ensure you are sharing the right message – and right potential recruits are hearing it.

The appropriateness of this message is not just about putting the right ényes in the right places; it's about targeting specific regions or cultures with the programs and selling points that will get the best results. And of course, it doesn’t end with your curriculum outlines and digital campaign, but with the atmosphere you create for current and potential students, through curating Spanish-language classes, extracurricular pursuits, and events to create a buzz among the hispanohablante community.

Multilingual marketing enables your institution to overcome cultural and language barriers, and engage with students at the earliest stages of their search.  Your strategy should aim both to immediately enroll the most qualified students and establish your academic brand for future prospective students.  The opportunities presented by Spanish-language acquisition are not lost on twenty-first-century students.  Undergraduate students with remedial or non-existent Spanish-language skills may still be looking to confirm the value of acquiring fluency – and looking for opportunities to do so. Reaching out to these students is more than simply providing the same information that you give to your domestic or Spanish language prospects – but about welcoming language-learners into your community, sharing and clarifying your own application process (which may differ substantially from those closer to home), and even making these materials available for anxious parents who might not be as adept at Spanish as the potential recruits.

In these ways, you can reach not only a wider audience but the right audience – and make a meaningful impact with your campaign.

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