America the Polyglot: The Top 5 Non-English Languages Spoken at Home
You can read Book of Odds (so far) only in English, but Americans are filling out their census forms in six different languages. To prepare, they can read a Language Assistance Guide in any of 59 different tongues.
However you describe the United States—melting pot? gorgeous mosaic?—there's no denying its linguistic diversity. While the odds a person 5 or older speaks English at home are 1 in 1.24 (81%), that leaves 19.4% of us asking "What's for breakfast?" in another tongue. And in some parts of the country it's a good deal more—in the West, for example, fully 31.5% speak a language other than English in the home (all figures are for people in the United States over 5 years old).
Here's Book of Odds' roundup of the five most common non-English languages spoken in American homes.
5.Vietnamese. Over half a million asylum seekers and refugees came to the United States from Vietnam between 1981 and 2000. Many settled on the West Coast, where 1 in 111 people speak Vietnamese (in California, it's 1 in 71.93—that's 1.4%). Texas hosts a healthy Vietnamese population, too, with 1 in 127.8 speaking the language. On the East Coast, Virginia (1 in 155.9) and Massachusetts (1 in 179.4) have respectable numbers. Nationwide, Vietnamese is spoken at home by 1 in 231.1 people.
4. French. America's large number of French speakers (1 in 212.4) derive from several sources. Many are of French Canadian stock. Former French possessions in Asia (like Vietnam again) contribute as well, as do other French-speaking lands in the Americas, like Haiti (especially in the Northeast, where 1 in 118.3 speak French). But the state with the biggest French-speaking population, percentage-wise, is, not surprisingly, Louisiana, where the native Cajun population swells the odds of being a Francophone to 1 in 31.66—and they don't all live in the French Quarter. Crawfish, anyone?
3. Tagalog. Like Vietnamese, Tagalog—one of the main languages of the Philippines—comes to the US in part courtesy of Western activities in Eastern lands. After the Spanish-American war in 1898, control of the Philippine Islands passed from Spain to the United States; they gained independence only after World War II. In 2007 the Census Bureau counted over 3 million people of Filipino ancestry living in the United States. The odds a person 5 or older speaks Tagalog at home are 1 in 190.2, with the highest levels, by far, in the West (1 in 69.39); Nevada is home to the biggest percentage (1 in 43.22).
2. Chinese. With many thriving Chinatowns in the US, Chinese takes the number two spot on the language list, spoken in the home by 1 in 114.8 (0.87%) of people over 5. The Northeast has a strong showing, with 1 in 68.41, but, as with other Asian languages, proximity to the "old country" matters: the West has the highest percentage of people speaking Chinese in the home, with 1 in 58.6 (1.71%). State-wise, California (1 in 36.82) edges out New York (1 in 37.99), with Massachusetts coming in third at 1 in 67.1.
1. Spanish. No drum-roll needed here. Nationwide, the odds a person 5 or older speaks Spanish at home are 1 in 8.19—that's 12.2%—and in some of our most populous areas they're much higher:
- In New York State 1 in 7.06 speaks Spanish at home, with a big concentration in New York City. There, New York University researchers reported in 2003 that 29% of city school children were exposed to Spanish in the home.
- Spanish is even more prevalent in Florida (1 in 5.29), Nevada (1 in 4.98), Arizona (1 in 4.66), New Mexico (1 in 3.58), and California (1 in 3.56).
- But the state with the highest proportion of Spanish speakers is Texas, with its 1,300-mile Mexican border. The odds a person five or older in the Lone Star State speaks Spanish at home are 1 in 3.45, or 29%.