Bilingual America

More than 60 million Americans — nearly 20% — now speak a language other than English at home, according to the most recent census data.

The most recent United States census data on languages spoken in the U.S. was released in 2015. The data comes from the U.S. census 2009-2013, so it may underestimate the number of bilinguals, given the increasing growth of the Hispanic population. However, the data is the most current information (at the level of thoroughness offered by the census) available.

As of 2014, 38.4 million people spoke Spanish at home in the United States.

It’s clear that there are a lot of bilingual people in America. Here is the tally of counties where at least 10 percent of the people speak a language other than English at home:

  • Spanish is spoken in 708 counties.
  • Native American languages are spoken in 29 counties.
  • German is spoken in 21 counties.
  • French is spoken in 15 counties.
  • Pacific Island languages are spoken in 5 counties.

English is spoken in at least 90 percent of homes in 2,347 counties, so it is clear that the United States continues to be primarily an English-speaking nation. However, the percentage of Americans who can speak another language is rising. In 2012, it was estimated that only 9% of Americans were fully bilingual. The new report doesn’t delve into the the level of skill of the speakers, but speaking a language at home is a good indicator of comfort in that language.

Florida, according to the recent census report, is 27% bilingual. For the U.S. in general, the figure is closer to 20%, though about 26% of Americans can conduct a conversation in more than one language.  In Canada, 35% of the population is bilingual, and 56% of Europeans speak at least two languages fluently. For the world at large, the figure is over 50%.  In Puerto Rico, about 30% consider themselves fluently bilingual.

In other words, the United States continues to lag behind other nations in bilingualism, but is beginning to catch up.

The number of people in the world who speak English as a second language has for some years been larger than the number of native speakers of English. This has allowed Americans to manage as monolinguals for far longer than many other nations could have. However, other English speaking countries have higher levels of bilingualism than the United States.

2 Comments

Raymond Watson

When admitted to statehood, Texas was an independent republic in which Spanish was widely spoken (and still is). The territory of New Mexico also had many who spoke Spanish snd still do as a State. Hawaii also had,and still has, a large population that speaks their native Polynesian dialect. Florida, also a former Spanish possession, as of today has a substantial population whose lingua franca is Spanish. California, a similar case, still has towns, streets, and public areas with Spanish names and also may who speak Spanish day-to-day. The State of Puerto Rico will thus not be any exception!!!! JRW Guaynabo, PR

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