Half of Residents Speak Foreign Languages in America’s Largest Cities

by NEE

48 percent of Americans speak a foreign language at home in America’s five largest cities

One in Five American Residents Speak a Language Other than English in 2017

New US Census Bureau data finds that roughly half (48.2 percent) of residents living in America’s five largest cities speak a language other than English at home.  Furthermore, there are 85 municipalities where a majority of residents spoke a foreign language at home.

Overall, the number of US residents who speak a foreign language at home is a record 67 million people.  This figure is up 7 million since 2010 and 35 million since 1990.

The Center for Immigration Studies notes in their report:

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.

In 2017, there were 85 cities and Census Designated Places (CDP) in which a majority of residents spoke a foreign language at home. These include Hialeah, Fla. (95 percent); Laredo, Texas (92 percent); and East Los Angeles, Calif. (90 percent). Perhaps more surprisingly, it also includes places like Elizabeth, N.J. (76 percent); Skokie, Ill. (56 percent); and Germantown, Md., and Bridgeport, Conn. (each 51 percent).

By far the largest foreign language spoken at home is Spanish (41 million), followed by Chinese (3.5 million), Tagalog (1.7 million), Vietnamese (1.5 million) and Arabic (1.2 million).

The primary reason for this massive linguistic shift is immigration, both legal and illegal, and the increased retention of immigrant languages by their children.  The data finds that of school-age children (5-17) who speak a foreign language at home, some 85 percent were born in the US.  Likewise, of those 18 and up, more than one third of those speaking foreign languages at home were born in America.

Also from the CIS:

  • 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.
  • In 2017, there were 85 cities and Census Designated Places (CDP) in which a majority of residents spoke a foreign language at home. These include Hialeah, Fla. (95 percent); Laredo, Texas (92 percent); and East Los Angeles, Calif. (90 percent). Perhaps more surprisingly, it also includes places like Elizabeth, N.J. (76 percent); Skokie, Ill. (56 percent); and Germantown, Md., and Bridgeport, Conn. (each 51 percent).
  • 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.
  • The data released thus far indicates that nationally nearly one in four public school students now speaks a language other than English at home. 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.
  • Of those who speak a foreign language at home, 25.9 million (39 percent) told the Census Bureau that they speak English less than very well. This figure is entirely based on the opinion of the respondent; the Census Bureau does not measure language skills.
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