How Many Languages Are Spoken in the US? [Infographic]

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?

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 381. No, that’s not a typo.

Once you view the infographic, see why it’s important to learn a foreign language.

how many languages are spoken in the US

Click to enlarge.

Fun Facts

  • 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 speaks 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

Below is information about the nine most popular languages in the US after English. Languages appear in order by number of individuals older than 5 who use a language other than English in the home.

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. (In fact, if you include US-born Spanish speakers in the same group as foreign-born Spanish speakers, you get over 50 million people. This is more than the number of Spanish speakers in Spain!)

Chinese: 2.9 million

Major concentrations of Chinese speakers are in San Francisco and New York, though dozens of smaller cities throughout the US have a Chinatown.

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, D.C. 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 the US 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 (about a third of the 1810 U.S. population) 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.

Arabic: 952,000

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: 906,000

Russian enjoys minority status in some two dozen countries—including the US. Major Russian enclaves 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—381.”

Sources:
“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

Would you like to be one of those Americans who speaks more than one language? Then read “What Language Should I Learn?” to help you decide whether to take up Spanish or Chinese!