Posted on September 19, 2018

Almost Half Speak a Foreign Language in America’s Largest Cities

Karen Zeigler and Steven A. Camarota, Center for Immigration Studies, September 19, 2018

Newly released Census Bureau data for 2017 shows nearly half (48.2 percent) of residents in America’s five largest cities now speak a language other than English at home. Overall, the number of U.S. residents speaking a foreign language at home reached a record of nearly 67 million. The total number is up 7 million since 2010 and has increased by nearly 35 million since 1990.

Among the findings:

  • In 2017, a record 66.6 million U.S. residents (native-born, legal immigrants, and illegal immigrants) ages five and older spoke a language other than English at home. The number has more than doubled since 1990, and almost tripled since 1980.
  • As a share of the population, 21.8 percent of U.S. residents speak a foreign language at home — roughly double the 11 percent in 1980.
  • In America’s five largest cities, 48 percent of residents now speak a language other than English at home. In New York City and Houston it is 49 percent; in Los Angeles it is 59 percent; in Chicago it is 36 percent; and in Phoenix it is 38 percent.1
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  • Nearly one in five U.S. residents now lives in a city or CDP in which one-third of the population speaks a foreign language at home. This includes Dale City, Va. (43 percent); Norwalk, Conn., and New Rochelle, N.Y. (each 42 percent); and Aurora, Colo., and Troy, Mich. (each 35 percent).
  • In contrast to many of the nation’s cities, in rural areas outside of metropolitan areas just 8 percent speak a language other than English at home.2
  • The data released thus far indicates that nationally nearly one in four public school students now speaks a language other than English at home.3 In California, 44 percent of school-age (5-17) children speak a foreign language at home, and it’s roughly one-third in Texas, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, and Florida.
  • Of school-age children (5-17) who speak a foreign language at home, 85 percent were born in the United States. Even among adults 18 and older, more than one-third of those who speak a foreign language at home are U.S.-born.4
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  • Languages with more than a million speakers in 2017 were Spanish (41 million); Chinese (3.5 million); Tagalog (1.7 million); Vietnamese (1.5 million); Arabic (1.2 million); French (1.2 million); and Korean (1.1 million).
  • States with the largest share of their populations speaking a foreign language at home in 2017 were California (44 percent); Texas (36 percent); New Mexico (33 percent); New Jersey (32 percent); New York and Nevada (both 31 percent); Florida (30 percent); Arizona (27 percent); Hawaii (26 percent); and Massachusetts (24 percent).
  • States with the large percentage increase in the number of foreign language speakers from 2010 to 2017 were Wyoming (up 33 percent); North Dakota (up 30 percent); Utah (up 25 percent); Delaware (up 24 percent); Nevada (up 22 percent); Maryland, Nebraska, Kentucky, and Florida (each up 21 percent); and Minnesota (up 19 percent).
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Data Source. {snip} Unless otherwise indicated, the information in this analysis comes directly from FactFinder.


In this report, we provide some statistics for the immigrant population, referred to as the “foreign-born” by the Census Bureau. The foreign-born population is comprised of those individuals who were not U.S. citizens at birth. It includes naturalized citizens, legal permanent residents (green card holders), temporary workers, and foreign students. It does not include those born to immigrants in the United States, including to illegal-immigrant parents, or those born in outlying U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico. {snip}

[Editor’s Note: Endnotes and tables are included with the original article.]