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Top 10 Most Spoken Languages In The U.S.

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Pop quiz: what’s the official language of the United States? For those of you who answered “English”, you’ll be surprised to learn that English is not the official language of the U.S. In fact, at the federal level, the U.S. has no official language.

Given the United State’s history as a melting pot of cultures and diverse languages, this makes sense. Designating a language (or multiple languages) as an official language means only that language can be used within the government. However, many states within the U.S. have made English their official language.

None the less, millions of households across America speak languages other than English in their homes. The colonization of the U.S. from many European countries, as well as immigration throughout the decades from around the globe, has made the U.S. home to a diverse group of speakers.

Thanks to research from the American Community Survey, the U.S Census Bureau, and World Atlas, we can see what the most widely used languages in the U.S. are. Respondents were asked what was the primary language spoken in their household. Here are the top 10 most used languages in the U.S.

  1. English – 231 million speakers

I’m sure this doesn’t come as a surprise to most of you. English is indeed the de facto language of the U.S. About 80% of households in the U.S. speak English only. English is the primary language used in government, taught in schools, and used in entertainment.

The United States inherited English from the British colonization. The influence of the United Kingdom in the U.S. as well as the large amount of people coming from the U.K. during the early days of the U.S. led to the widespread usage of English as a primary language.

  1. Spanish – 37.5 million speakers

The prevalence of Spanish in the U.S. can also be traced back to the colonization of America. Spanish was actually the language of the first permanent European settlers. Spain had colonized Florida and several parts of Latin America.

Today, immigration from Latin America and Mexico has also led to a boom in the usage of Spanish. In fact, states bordering Mexico have the highest prevalence of Spanish speakers (California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas). It has been said that the U.S is the second largest Spanish speaking community in the world, beating Spain and following Mexico.

  1. Chinese – 2.9 million speakers

When we say “Chinese language”, we actually mean all the varieties, or dialects, of Chinese. Varieties include Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka, Taiwanese, and a few others. Collectively, Chinese is the third most spoken language in the U.S.

The highest concentrations of Chinese speakers in the U.S. are in California and New York, which boosts large immigrant communities. In fact, it was estimated in 2000 that 40% of all Chinese speakers in the U.S. live in California, which took in scores of immigrants from China over the past couple centuries.

  1. French – 2 million speakers

France’s early influences in Canada and in Louisiana are responsible for French being the fourth most spoken language in the U.S. It’s not surprising that the highest concentrations of French speaking households are Louisiana (which the U.S. bought from France in the Louisiana Purchase), and in Northeastern states such as Maine. These states border Eastern Canada where Canadian-French is spoken.

  1. Tagalog – 1.6 million speakers

Tagalog is the national language of the Philippines. However, it is spoken as a first language by only about a quarter of Filipino population, while Filipino is used more widely as a first language.

The number of Tagalog speakers in the U.S. increased after the U.S. annexed the Philippines (The Philippines then became an independent country in 1946). Today, most Tagalog speakers in the U.S reside in Hawaii, California, and Nevada.

  1. Vietnamese – 1.4 million speakers

The sixth most spoken language in the U.S., the rise of the Vietnamese population in the U.S. occurred mostly after the communist takeover of South Vietnam after the Vietnam War. Little Saigon in Orange County, California is known for its large Vietnamese community. California is home to the highest percentage of Vietnamese speakers in the U.S.

  1. Korean – 1.1 million speakers

Korean is the seventh most spoken language in the U.S. Like Vietnamese, the Korean population of the U.S. has boomed during the past century. A surge of Korean immigrants came after the Korean War. The states with the largest Korean populations today are California, New York, New Jersey.

  1. German – 1 million speakers

The usage of German in the U.S. can be traced back to the colonial days, when German was widely spoken throughout some of the colonies, especially Pennsylvania. German was also the most used language in the U.S. (other than English) in the early 1900s.

As of today, there are two states in the U.S. where German is the second most spoken language behind English. They are North Dakota, and South Dakota.

  1. Arabic – 0.9 million speakers

Like Chinese, there are varieties of Arabic included here. Arabic speakers have been emigrating to the U.S. from Middle East throughout the nation’s history. Many Muslim Americans still use Arabic today for religious purposes. It’s interesting to note that many Arabic speakers already know English upon resettling here, given English’s widespread usage in the Middle East.

States with the most Arabic speakers are California, Michigan, New York, and Texas.

  1. Russian – 0.9 million speakers

Rounding out the top 10 is Russian. Russian is still used today in many areas of Alaska, which used to be under Russian control. During the Cold War, many immigrants from the Soviet Union and its satellite nations came to the U.S., increasing the usage of Russian. New York, California, and Washington have the most Russian speakers.

Given the diverse nature of the U.S., it’s important for businesses to understand the prevalence of languages other than English in the U.S. Accommodating languages other than English can lead to businesses reaching more potential customers within the U.S.

What do you think?

What language or languages are spoken in your home? What’s your take on the importance of businesses in the U.S. offering multilingual support and services? Let us know in the comments!

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  • Marianne

    April 26, 2017 at 12:20 am Reply

    I really appreciate that you made this article, I benefitted from it personally when deciding which languages I should learn. I think I made the right choice learning Spanish first, being in the U.S. and all

    • neoadmin

      April 26, 2017 at 9:48 am Reply

      Glad to hear it Marianne!

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