With more than 420 million people speaking it, the future of Spanish "as an international language" is on the line in the United States, the director of Spain's Cervantes Institute told Efe here Friday.

"Large sectors of the United States preceive Spanish as a language of immigrants, not as a treasure. And that needs changing," Victor Garcia de la Concha said.

On a visit to the Guadalajara International Book Fair, De la Concha said that Spain's current economic crisis, which has entailed budget cuts for the Cervantes Institute, should not hold back the work of making Spanish a global language.

"It is now that Latin countries must unite even more to continue promoting Spanish the world over, above all in the United States," De la Concha said.

The idea is to be well established in big American universities to make sure that future Spanish teachers are prepared to "do a good job of teaching the different varieties of Spanish" not only to neophytes in the language but also to second-generation Hispanics.

The aim of the Cervantes Institute, a public institution founded in 1991 to promote Spanish and the culture of Spanish-speaking countries, is to have a greater presence in American schools.

Garcia de la Concha said that an extensive project to internationalize Spanish cannot be done by "a Spanish Cervantes Institute alone," but requires one that is "Ibero-American."

The demand is growing: in Brazil, where the institute has eight offices, "20,000 teachers are needed," while in "China, India, Korea and Singapore they're asking us every day to set up Cervantes centers," he said.

The institute is currently at work in 44 countries. EFE