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Languages in the United States

Language-learning trends - Languages spoken in the U.S. - More language statistics

Languages spoken in the United States


In the 2000 census, the U.S. Census Bureau collected data about languages other than English spoken in the U.S. Of the 262.4 million people in the United States over the age of five, 47 million (18 percent) reported speaking a language other than English at home. This represents an increase over the 31.8 million (14 percent) who reported speaking another language at home in the 1990 census and a further increase over the 23.1 million (11 percent) reported in the 1980 census. The 2000 figures show that the absolute number of people speaking other languages in the home has doubled since that time.

Spanish continues to be the non-English language most commonly spoken at home at 29.1 million speakers. From 1990 to 2000, the number of Spanish speakers grew by about 60%. Chinese moved from fifth place to become the second most widely spoken non-English language, a trend that reflects the increase in the number of Chinese speakers in the United States from 1.2 to 2 million. Of the twenty non-English languages most frequently spoken at home, Russian showed the largest proportional increase, nearly tripling from 242,000 to 706,000. The second largest increase was for French Creole speakers --a group that includes Haitian Creoles -- who more than doubled from 188,000 to 453,000. The number of Vietnamese speakers doubled over the decade as well, from about 507,000 to just over 1 million.

Ten Languages Most Frequently Spoken at Home 2000

Perhaps unsurprising, when one considers historical immigration patterns, is the drop between 1990 and 2000 in the numbers of Italian, Polish, and German speakers. These languages nonetheless remain in the top ten.


The distribution of non-English speakers in the United States is uneven. The West has more than one-third of all non-English-language speakers, proportionately more than any other region. 29 percent of residents in the West, 20 percent in the Northeast, 15 percent in the South, and 9 percent in the Midwest speak a language other than English at home. Spanish is the dominant non-English language in all regions. Perhaps not surprising are the high proportions of non-English speakers residing in the states that border Mexico and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Some of these states were points of entry for many immigrants.

California has the highest percentage of non-English speakers at 39 percent, and in absolute terms, it has more than twice the number of any other state at 12.4 million. New Mexico is a close second at 37 percent, followed by Texas (31 percent), New York (28 percent), Hawaii (27 percent), Arizona and New Jersey (each 26 percent). The five states with less than 5 percent of the population speaking a non-English language were all in the South: Tennessee (4.8 percent), Alabama and Kentucky (each 3.9 percent), Mississippi (3.6 percent), and West Virginia (2.7 percent).

Since 1990, the number of non-English speakers at least doubled in six states. Nevada, which had the highest rate of population increase during the decade, also saw a 193 percent increase in speakers of other languages. Georgia increased its number of non-English speakers by 164 percent, North Carolina by 151 percent, and Utah by 110 percent. Arkansas (104 percent) and Oregon (103 percent) slightly more than doubled their language speaking populations. From 1990 to 2000, the proportion of people who spoke other languages at home decreased in only three states: North Dakota (19 percent), Maine (11 percent), and Louisiana (2 percent).

The majority of those who reported speaking a language other than English in the home said they could speak English "very well." Nonetheless, there are increasingly non-English speakers who report speaking English less than "very well", from 4.8 percent in 1980 to 6.1 percent in 1990 to 8.1 percent in 2000.11.9 million people in the United States live in linguistically isolated households, that is, in a household where no member has a strong command of English. For these people, tasks outside the home such as banking, shopping, seeking medical care, and dealing with public officials present a challenge. This number is up from 7.7 million linguistically isolated individuals in 1990.

Maps, charts, and data are from the U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000 Summary.

Language-learning trends - Languages spoken in the U.S. - More language statistics

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