Where languages other than English are most spoken in America

Posted at 12:54 PM, Jun 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-17 14:54:37-04

multilingual speakers

Americans might be a lot of things, but they’re certainly not homogenous. The country’s wealth is found in its uniquely diverse makeup. Residents of the United States are distinctly privileged in their ability to interact with people of different nationalities, languages, ethnicities, backgrounds and perspectives.

The U.S. has a rich immigration legacy, and the country is only becoming more diverse. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Asian and Hispanic populations rose the fastest between 2000 and 2010 at a clip of 43 percent each. This shakes out to a difference of 35.3 million Hispanics in 2000 to 50.5 million in 2010. Those who identified their race as Asian alone grew from 10.2 million in 2000 to 14.7 million in 2010.

The team at FindTheHome, a Graphiq research engine, wanted to analyze language diversity across America. To do this, they turned to the American Community Survey‘s 2014 five-year rolling estimates to see which languages other than English are most spoken at home in the U.S. While 79.1 percent of respondents identified English as the primary language spoken at home, almost a third of respondents reported a non-English language.

Looking at the county level, there’s a regional element to many non-English languages. Click the language dropdown in the data visualization to see where non-English languages are more prevalent.

Unsurprisingly, Spanish is heavily spoken in the Southwest. Spanish is the primary language for upwards of 90 percent of residents in some counties of Southern Texas, like Webb County. Higher rates of languages classified as other Indo-European are more sporadic, found in Northern Maine, Southern Florida and parts of the Midwest and Louisiana.

Languages designated by the ACS as Asian and Pacific Islander are found more commonly in Hawaii and coastal communities of California. Residents of Alaska and the four corners (known as the intersection of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico) all report high speaking percentages of languages designated as other. According to Languages of the World, Native American languages are largely spoken here.

At the high end of the spectrum, nearly 94 percent of a given county’s residents report Spanish as their household’s primary language. That number is nearly 48 percent for other Indo-European languages, just under 35 percent for Asian or Pacific Islander languages, and nearly 62 percent for the other designation in any given county.

Diversity presents itself in numerous ways. In a country where some counties feature upwards of 59 percent foreign-born residents, racial demographics data — layered in with that of ethnicity, language, sexuality, gender and others — can foretell regional politics, customs and values that shape America’s future.