There’s More that Meets the Eye: Languages of the United States
So America is the land of the monolingual, the place where only English is spoken and no other language exists—aside from for the more than forty million people who speak Spanish as a first language, and the estimated eleven million speaking it as a second, of course, but who’s counting those? And other than English and those few Spanish speakers, there’s not a single other language spoken at all in the United States, not a tongue that is significant nor a voice that’s prevalent that isn’t English. Right?
Well, not necessarily. The Modern Language Association of America, who you may also know as MLA, established in 1883, might disagree with us on that statement. Here’s a look at some of the other languages of North America, and where you might be most likely to hear them.
Arabic is spoken by around 765,000 people across the US. You are more likely to hear Arabic in California than anywhere else, with almost 17% of the state able to speak Arabic. Michigan comes up next at almost 13%, followed by New York (10%) and New Jersey (7%), and even in Arizona, where Arabic might be heard from only 1.8% of the state, that’s still getting on for 14,000 people, mostly concentrated in the counties Maricopa and Pima.
California is also the place to head to hear Chinese, with 544,000 of the 1.6 million US speakers concentrated here. New York again comes next as a multilingual centre, with around 283,000 speakers, Texas following with 93,000, and New Jersey with 75,000. There are also large Chinese speaking communities in Florida, particularly in Palm Beach, Broward and Dade, and in the state of Washington, in the counties of Snohomish, King, and Pierce.
There are an estimated 1.3 million French speakers across North America, principally in New York, California, and Louisiana, where the percentage of the population speaking French is between 9 and 11%. And if you’re looking for other places to practice your French, you could head to Aroostook in Maine, or Lane in Oregon, both with large French speaking communities.
North America has 1.1 million German speakers, mostly to be found in California with 10% of the state able to speak German, or Texas with almost 7%. You will also find German speakers in Louisiana, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut to name but a few states.
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In comparison with the previously mentioned European languages there are only a small number of Italian speakers in the US, at around 764,000. New York and the other surrounding easterly states have the most Italian speakers, with Florida to the south, and California and Nevada to the west close behind. As an outlier, in Boise, Idaho, there is a large Italian speaking community, where 3% of the population of 223,000 speak Italian. And another outlier is to be found in Hall, Texas, where about 1% of the population of 3,500 residents can speak the language as well.
North America has 1.1 million Korean speakers, predominantly stretching all the way up the west coast from Arizona to Washington. There is a large Korean speaking population in Brewster, Texas, where around 2-3% of the 9100 people residing there can speak Korean.
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Native North American languages
Navajo is predominantly spoken in the states of Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. Arizona and New Mexico are also listed by the Modern Language Association as the areas for highest numbers of ‘other’ Native American languages, along with South Dakota and Montana. There are only thought to be 170,000 Navajo speakers in the US, with the other Native languages having even fewer; many of these languages are at risk of extinction or already considered extinct, with less than ten speakers of Achomawi, native to California, and five speakers of Yuchi, from the region of East Central Oklahoma, representing just two of the wide numbers of Native American languages spoken.
Tagalog is spoken by around 1.5 million North Americans, principally in California where almost 50% of the population can speak the language. It can also be heard in large areas of Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and Washington, and pockets of all the other states.
The list goes on and on
We could keep going and delve a lot deeper though. There are significant numbers of speakers of Vietnamese, Polish, Portuguese, and Russian across America, a large number of Scandinavian language speakers to be found in North Dakota and Minnesota, and many more languages besides. So the next time someone implies the only language that is spoken in America is English, feel free to start a response with, well, actually, and point them in the direction of the Modern Language Association language map!