The initiative was announced as it emerged that the United States has more Spanish speakers than Spain itself, with 41 million native speakers and 11.6 million who are bilingual, according to a report by the Cervantes Institute.
The US outnumbers Colombia, which has 48 million Spanish speakers, as well as Spain, with 46 million. Only Mexico, with 121 million had more Spanish speakers.
So with an estimated 559 million Spanish speakers worldwide and around 21 million people learning Spanish as a foreign language it seems extraordinary that until now, no formal, globally recognised proficiency certificate existed.
In a joint project between the University of Salamanca and Mexico’s National Autonomous University together with Spain’s Cervantes, the new proficiency test announced this week will bring together the various forms of Spanish spoken across the Hispanic world.
"We were missing a flexible, highly respected certificate of proficiency in Spanish as a foreign language along the lines of those offered for the English language," said King Felipe in a speech given at the San Ildefonso College in Mexico City on Tuesday.
Mexican First Lady Angelica Rivera, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia. Photo: Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP"
If we want our language to reaffirm itself as the world’s second language of communication, we have to move beyond a short-term, self-absorbed vision and pool everyone’s resources to achieve a goal that will benefit us all," said the Spanish monarch, who was on his first state visit to the Americas since being crowned over a year ago.
Called the Siele, the assessment will be divided into reading, listening, writing and oral expression.
"The Siele is not just an evaluation, it is also a way to promote Spanish, and by that we mean everyone’s Spanish, with everyone on an equal footing," Víctor García de la Concha, the head of the Cervantes Institute said, according to a report in El Pais.
The Cervantes report, entitled "El español, una lengua viva," or "Spanish, a living language," found that Spanish is the second most spoken mother-tongue after Mandarin.
It is also the third most used language on the Internet - following Chinese and English - and second after English on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.