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New Interactive Map Shows Languages Spoken in America

New Interactive Map Shows Languages Spoken in America

Washington, 8 August 2013 — The U.S. Census Bureau released an interactive, online map August 6 pinpointing the wide array of languages spoken in homes across the United States, along with a detailed report on rates of English proficiency and the growing number of speakers of other languages.

The map and the report, Language Use in the United States: 2011, were described in a Commerce Department blog post the same day. The U.S. Census Bureau is part of the Commerce Department.

The report shows that Spanish and Chinese are the top non-English languages spoken in the United States, and most of the U.S. population is English-proficient.

“This study provides evidence of the growing role of languages other than English in the national fabric,” said Camille Ryan, a statistician in the Census Bureau’s Education and Social Stratification Branch and the report’s author.

“Yet, at the same time that more people are speaking languages other than English at home, the percentage of people speaking English proficiently has remained steady.”

The map, called the “2011 Language Mapper,” shows where people speaking specific languages other than English live, with dots representing how many people speak each of 15 different languages. For each language, it shows the concentration of those who say they speak English less than “very well,” a measure of English proficiency. The tool uses data collected through the American Community Survey from 2007 to 2011.

The languages available in the interactive map include Spanish, French, French Creole, Italian, Portuguese, German, Russian, Polish, Persian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog and Arabic. After selecting one of these languages from the menu, users will see a national population density map, with each dot representing about 100 people who speak the language at home placed where these speakers are concentrated.

The map also allows users to zoom in to a smaller geographic area, where each dot represents 10 people. The dots were placed in a random location within census tracts to protect the confidentiality of speakers.

Increase in Non-English Speakers

The report details the number of people speaking languages other than English at home and their ability to speak English, by selected social and demographic characteristics. It shows that more than half (58 percent) of U.S. residents 5 and older who speak a language other than English at home also speak English “very well.”

The data, taken from the American Community Survey, are provided for the whole country, states and metropolitan and micropolitan areas.

The report shows that the percent speaking English “less than very well” grew from 8.1 percent in 2000 to 8.7 percent in 2007, but stayed at 8.7 percent in 2011. The percent speaking a language other than English at home went from 17.9 percent in 2000 to 19.7 percent in 2007, while continuing upward to 20.8 percent in 2011.

Of the 60.6 million people who spoke a language other than English at home in 2011, almost two-thirds (37.6 million) spoke Spanish.

Reflecting the overall trend, the percentage speaking Spanish at home grew from 12.0 percent in 2005 to 12.9 percent in 2011. In contrast to the overall trend, however, the percent who spoke Spanish at home but spoke English “less than very well” declined from 5.7 percent to 5.6 percent over the period.

The recent increase in non-English speakers continues a trend dating back three decades. Between 1980 and 2010, the number of people speaking a language other than English climbed 158 percent.

The highest percentage jump among 17 of the most common languages was the sevenfold increase in Vietnamese speakers, while Spanish speakers posted the largest numerical gain (25.9 million). In contrast, the number speaking Italian, German, Polish, Yiddish or Greek declined over the period.

Other Highlights of the Report

• In addition to English and Spanish, there were six languages in 2011 spoken at home by at least 1 million people: Chinese (2.9 million), Tagalog (1.6 million), Vietnamese (1.4 million), French (1.3 million), German (1.1 million) and Korean (1.1 million).

• The prevalence of people speaking non-English languages at home varied widely across states, from 44 percent of the population in California to 2 percent in West Virginia.

• Laredo, Texas, led all metro areas, with 92 percent of residents age 5 and older speaking a language other than English at home.

• Metro and micro areas in the West, South and Northeast tended to have higher levels of people speaking non-English languages at home. Those in the Midwest tended to have lower levels, with the exception of Illinois.

• Of Spanish speakers, 45 percent of foreign-born naturalized citizens spoke English “very well,” compared with 23 percent of foreign-born noncitizens. Those who were native-born, had at least a bachelor’s degree or were not in poverty were more likely to speak English “very well.”

• Eighty percent or more of French and German speakers spoke English “very well.” In contrast, less than 50 percent of those who spoke Korean, Chinese or Vietnamese spoke English “very well.” The rate for Spanish speakers was 56 percent.

The American Community Survey

The American Community Survey, which supplied the data, provides a wide range of important statistics about people and housing for every community across the United States. The results are used by everyone from town and city planners to retailers and homebuilders. It is the only source of local estimates for most of the 40 topics it covers, such as education, occupation, language, ancestry and housing costs for even the smallest communities.

Since then–Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson directed the first U.S. census in 1790, the census has collected detailed characteristics about the country’s residents. Questions about jobs and the economy were added 20 years later under President James Madison, who said such information would allow the U.S. Congress to “adapt the public measures to the particular circumstances of the community,” and over the decades allow America “an opportunity of marking the progress of the society.”

The “2011 Language Mapper” and Language Use in the United States: 2011 (PDF, 1.39MB) are available on the U.S. Census Bureau website.

ENDS

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