Languages spoken in US

The United States, a monolingual country? I think not!

Did you know that English actually isn’t the official language of the United States? Some states have made it their official language, but it’s only the de facto language in the USA. Here are 14 fascinating facts about language in America from the U.S Census Bureau following the 2011 survey (per Arika Okrent’s article in The Week and interspersed with images and detail from Emily Badger’s article in The Atlantic and the US Census Bureau reports).

1. Over 300 languages are spoken in the U.S. For purposes of analysis they are categorized into 39 groups (e.g., Slavic languages besides Russian, Polish, and Serbo-Croatian are under “Other Slavic Languages.” Indian languages besides Hindi, Gujarati, and Urdu are under “Other Indic Languages.”)

2. Of the population 5 years and older, 21 percent speak another language at home. Of those, 62 percent speak Spanish. Of those Spanish speakers, 56 percent speak English “very well.”

These are the 60.9 million Spanish-speaking households in America (each dot = 10 people):

Screen shot 2013-09-05 at 12.08.48 AM

3. From 2005 to 2011 the percentage of Spanish speakers increased, while those who spoke English less than “very well” decreased. There are more Spanish speakers, and also more Spanish speakers who are fluent in English.

Below is a map of those surveyed who claimed to speak Spanish and home and English “less than well”:

Screen shot 2013-09-05 at 12.10.44 AM

4. While the language with the biggest increase in numbers of speakers since 1980 is Spanish, Vietnamese has had the biggest percentage increase. There are now almost 7 times the number of Vietnamese speakers there were in 1980.

5. There were other large increases over the same period for Russian, Persian, Chinese, Korean, and Tagalog.

Below is where people speak Chinese at home:

Screen shot 2013-09-05 at 12.13.03 AM

6. At the same time, the number of Italian, Yiddish, Polish, German, and Greek speakers decreased.

But as you can see, there are still a significant amount of Polish-speakers in the Chicago area:

Screen shot 2013-09-05 at 12.15.51 AM

7. The last 10 years saw a doubling of the number of Hindi speakers, speakers of “Other Indic Languages” (such as Punjabi, Bengali, and Marathi), speakers of “Other Asian” Languages” (such as Malayalam, Telugu, and Tamil), and speakers of African Languages (such as Amharic, Ibo, Yoruba, and Swahili).

8. Unsurprisingly, those who are young and born here are more likely to speak English “very well.”

Below is a very controversial Tide commercial that aired in the States, not even going to go into why it’s controversial because I would have to use the phrase “mexicanization” and I just did and don’t want to again.

9. The metro area with the highest percentage speaking another language is Laredo, Texas. Below is an interesting clip from a documentary called Bilingual in Bayside about a small town in Texas where many people speak English and Spanish.

10. In metro areas with high numbers of speakers of other languages, Spanish is usually the biggest non-English language, except in San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif., and Honolulu where the category of “Asian and Pacific Island Language” is bigger, and Farmington, N.M., where Navajo is biggest.

Speaking of Navajo, here are the most common Native American languages still spoken in the USA:

Screen shot 2013-09-05 at 12.23.44 AM

11. The state with the lowest percentage of those who speak another language is West Virginia (2 percent). The highest is California (44 percent).

12. A full breakdown by individual language (rather than by the 39 categories) is available for the 2006-2008 survey period. It estimates that there are 173 speakers of Gilbertese, 707 speakers of Luxombourgian, and 1649 speakers of Basque.

Here’s where people still speak French Creole (Beyoncé is French Creole):

Screen shot 2013-09-05 at 12.11.56 AM

13. There are an estimated 117,547 speakers of Pennsylvania Dutch, 38,494 of whom speak English less than “very well.”


14. There are over 1,000 speakers of the Pacific island language Samoan in Alaska.

About alicestockwellegan

Language and culture enthusiast from New York living in San Francisco.
This entry was posted in America., English, FYI, Language, Learning English, Multilingualism, Spanish, Uncategorized, Videos and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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