65.5 Million U.S. Residents Spoke a Foreign Language at Home in 2016

Steven A. Camarota and Karen Zeigler, Center for Immigration Studies, October 24, 2017

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Newly released Census Bureau data for 2016 shows that a record 65.5 million U.S. residents five years of age and older spoke a language other than English at home. The number is up six million since 2010 and has increased by nearly 34 million since 1990.

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Among the findings:

  • In 2016, a record 65.5 million U.S. residents (native-born, legal immigrants, and illegal immigrants) spoke a language other than English at home. The number has more than doubled since 1990, when 31.8 million spoke a language other than English at home.
  • Taking a longer view, the 65.5 million foreign-language speakers in 2016 is almost triple the number in 1980.
  • As a share of the population, 21.6 percent of U.S. residents speak a foreign language at home — nearly double the 11 percent in 1980.
  • Of languages with more than 400,000 speakers, the largest percentage increases since 2010 were among speakers of Arabic (up 42 percent), Hindi (up 33 percent), Urdu (up 22 percent), Chinese (up 20 percent), Persian and Haitian (each up 15 percent), and Gujarati (up 14 percent). Hindi is a national language of India, Urdu is the national language of Pakistan, Persian is the national language of Iran, and Gujarati is spoken in India.
  • The largest numerical increases 2010 to 2016 were among speakers of Spanish (up 3.5 million), Chinese (up 564,000), Arabic (up 366,000), Hindi (up 201,000), Telugu (up 143,000), Vietnamese (up 129,000), Tagalog (up 128,000), Haitian (up 109,000), Bengali (up 101,000), Tamil (up 89,000), and Urdu (up 86,000). Telugu and Tamil are spoken in India and Tagalog is the national language of the Philippines; Bengali is spoken in India and is also the national language of Bangladesh.
  • Languages with more than a million speakers in 2016 were Spanish (40.5 million), Chinese (3.4 million), Tagalog (1.7 million), Vietnamese (1.5 million), Arabic (1.2 million), French (1.2 million), and Korean (1.1 million).

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  • Many of those who speak a foreign language at home are not immigrants. In fact, half of the growth in foreign language speakers since 2010 is among those born in the United States. Overall, 44 percent (29 million) of those who speak a language other than English at home are U.S.-born.2
  • Of those who speak a foreign language at home, 26.1 million (39.8 percent) told the Census Bureau that they speak English less than very well. This figure is entirely based on the opinion of the respondents; the Census Bureaus does not measure language skills.3

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  • Taking the longer view, states with the largest percentage increases in foreign-language speakers 1980 to 2016 were: Nevada (up 1,040 percent), Georgia (up 926 percent), North Carolina (up 744 percent), Virginia (up 475 percent), Tennessee (up 425 percent), Arkansas (up 412 percent), Washington (up 395 percent), Florida (up 361 percent), South Carolina and Utah (each up 349 percent), Oregon (up 346 percent), and Maryland (up 345 percent).

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