Tertulia supports the use of Spanish as a vibrant language for culture, commerce, and community building in West Michigan and beyond.

What is a “vibrant language?”

A vibrant language is one that is used actively by its speakers – whether they learned it at home, work, or school – in many different areas of life. A community can promote the vibrancy of a language by encouraging lifelong learning, literacy, and different forms of cultural expression in that language.

Who speaks Spanish in West Michigan?

Although some refer to Spanish as a “foreign” language, by some estimates the United States is on the verge of becoming the country with the second-largest number of Spanish speakers in the world. Some project that it will be home to the largest Spanish-speaking community in the world by 2050 (1). In West Michigan, roughly 6% of the residents in Kent County and 5.5% of Ottawa County residents – over 55,000 people in total – speak Spanish at home (2). Joining them are those who speak Spanish as a second language, including but certainly not limited to the estimated 5,000 children enrolled in the many Spanish immersion programs throughout West Michigan (3). The majority of students in traditional schools that are studying a world language are also learning Spanish; in the U.S., enrollments in Spanish courses at K-12 schools as well as institutions of higher education surpass those of all other modern languages combined (4). And we can’t forget the many local teachers, teaching assistants, and professors who teach Spanish to all those students.

How can Spanish be used for culture, commerce, and community building?

Despite its long history in the territory now known as the United States, Spanish is currently a minority language, not only in terms of the number of active speakers but also in terms of its social status in this country. In many communities across the U.S., both Spanish speakers and non-Spanish speakers alike may associate the use of Spanish in the public sphere with social, cultural, and economic disadvantages. However, there are thriving bilingual communities where Spanish is a language that people see fit not only for the classroom but also for settings that range from the board room to the stage to the town hall. Miami, Florida is an often cited example of this type of community.

Where does the name “Tertulia” come from?

Tertulia” is one of my favorite words in Spanish, for both the sound of it and the image of señores in guayaberas gathered over a cafecito to talk about whatever might be on their minds. I share more of my favorite things and personal reflections on my blog.


(1) According to Wikipedia, with sources, as well as dozens of news articles in recent years.

(2) Based on 2014 American Community Survey estimates and population as of July 2015, as calculated by the U.S. Census bureau.

(3) See my reporting on the Spanish immersion boom in West Michigan for my podcast, also called Tertulia.

(4) Based on K-12 world language enrollment numbers compiled by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) and other sources.