Here’s a great question to ask your friends at the bar: How many languages are spoken in the US?
Think of a number between 1 and 500. (Hint: It’s closer to 500 than it is to 1.)
How Many Languages Are Spoken in the US?
So just how many languages are spoken in America?
Were you thinking “two”? (English is obvious; Spanish also probably comes to mind.)
What about 10? A few dozen? (You’re getting warmer, but you’re still a long way off.)
The correct answer to the question How many languages are spoken in the US? is almost four hundred—381 at the time of writing.
No, that’s not a typo.
Once you view the infographic, read about the benefits of learning a second language or find out what the nine most commonly spoken languages are.
Fun Facts about Languages Spoken in America
- English is not the official language of the United States. However, it’s the de facto national language.
- 1 out of 5 people living in the US can speak a language other than English in the home.
- Six languages (Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, French, Korean, and German) each have over 1 million speakers in the US.
- There are more speakers of Chinese in the US than there are people in Chicago, Illinois.
Languages Ranked by Number of Speakers
So we’ve talked about how many languages are spoken in America, but we haven’t looked at what those languages are.
Below is information about the nine most widely spoken languages in America after English. Languages appear in order by number of individuals older than 5 who use a language other than English in the home.
Note: Population numbers are constantly changing, so when you read this post, these numbers will already be out of date. Still, the data gives you an idea of the size of a given language community.
Spanish: 37.6 million speakers
Spanish was once confined to southern California, Texas, New York, Miami, and small towns along the US-Mexican border.
The most widely spoken language in the US besides English, it can now be heard in cities and towns across America.
The American Latino population is significant. Latinos make up over 35% of California’s workforce.
Chinese: 2.9 million
Major concentrations of Chinese speakers are in San Francisco and New York, though dozens of smaller American cities have a Chinatown.
As a language in the digital age, Chinese is booming. The Internet adoption rate among Chinese speakers throughout the world grew 4 times faster than the rate among English speakers.
Tagalog: 1.6 million
A million and a half people in the US speak Tagalog (the main language of the Philippines) in the home.
In fact, Chicago, Houston, and Washington, DC all have sizable Tagalog communities.
Vietnamese: 1.4 million
Vietnamese immigrants came to the US in large numbers in the mid-70s, after the Vietnam War had ended. What’s more, over half of Vietnamese speakers live in two US states—Texas and California.
French: 1.3 million
The two biggest French strongholds in America are in Louisiana and New England.
In fact, there’s a small town in Maine where 80% of the residents are French speakers. It’s no surprise, then, that it borders Canada—or that its name is Frenchville.
Korean: 1.1 million
There is a Koreatown in both L.A. and New York. In fact, the ethnic Korean population of the entire New York City metropolitan area is second only to that of Korea.
German: 1.1 million
We can trace German’s influence to immigration, notably the wave between 1820 and 1870, when some 2 million Germans landed on American shores.
Today, there are pockets of German speakers throughout the US, with two of the most well-known in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and north-central Ohio.
According to the Arab-American Institute, California and Michigan have the highest numbers of Arabic-Americans in the country. In fact, over 40% of the population of Dearborn, Michigan (near Detroit) is of Arabic ancestry.
Russian enjoys minority status in some two dozen countries—including the US. The major Russian enclaves in America are in San Francisco and the Brighton Beach area of New York City.
So now you know! In fact, the next time that someone asks you how many languages are spoken in the US, you can say, “That’s easy—almost 400.”
“Language Use in the United States: 2011.” American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau. 2011.
Wikipedia. (multiple pages)
“25f. Irish and German Immigration.” ushistory.org.
Arab American Institute
America isn’t the only country with many languages. France is home to many regional languages.
Would you like to speak more than one language? Then read “What Language Should I Learn?” to help you decide whether to take up Spanish or Chinese.
And speaking of languages, don’t use the Google Translate widget on your website.