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The number of people 5 and older who spoke a language other than English at home has more than doubled in the last three decades and at a pace four times greater than the nation's population growth, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau report analyzing data from the 2007 American Community Survey and over a time period from 1980 - 2007. In that time frame, the percentage of speakers of non-English languages grew by 140 percent while the nation's overall population grew by 34 percent.
Spanish speakers accounted for the largest numeric increase — nationwide, there were 23.4 million more speakers in 2007 than in 1980 representing a 211 percent increase. The Vietnamese-speaking population accounted for the largest percentage increase of 511 percent (1.0 million speakers) over the same timeframe.
The new report, Language Use in the United States: 2007 [PDF], identifies the states with the highest concentrations of some of the most commonly spoken non-English languages. The languages, and some of the states with the highest percentage of speakers of these languages, include: Spanish (Texas, California and New Mexico), French (Louisiana and Maine), German (North Dakota and South Dakota), Slavic languages (Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut), Chinese (California, New York, Hawaii and Massachusetts) and Korean (Hawaii, California and New Jersey).
“The language data that the Census Bureau collects is vital to local agencies in determining potential language needs of school-aged children, for providing voting materials in non-English languages as mandated by the Voting Rights Act, and for researchers to analyze language trends in the U.S.,” said U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves.
Data on the speakers of non-English languages, as well as their English-speaking ability, routinely are used to help shape legislative, legal and marketing decisions.
Of the 281 million people 5 and older in the United States in 2007, 55.4 million individuals — or 20 percent — reported speaking a language other than English at home. While the Census Bureau codes 381 detailed languages, data tabulations generally are not available for all of those detailed groups. Instead, the Census Bureau collapses them into smaller sets of “language groups.” The simplest collapse uses four major groups: Spanish, other Indo-European languages, Asian or Pacific Island languages, and all other languages. Of those people surveyed in this report, 62 percent spoke Spanish, 19 percent spoke other Indo-European languages, 15 percent spoke an Asian or Pacific Island language, and 4 percent spoke some other language.
Among people who spoke a language other than English at home, a majority reported speaking English “very well.” The range varied from around 50 percent of the Asian or Pacific Island language speakers to 70 percent of those who spoke some other language.
The report also found:
Also being released today are state by state and national tables, using the 2006-2008 American Community Survey multiyear data, that list every language reported by at least one person in the sample period.
The tables detail the 303 languages other than English spoken at home. Those languages include:
The tables provide estimates of many languages that have not been published since the 2000 Census, including: Albanian, Amharic, Bengali, Cushite, Kru, Panjabi, Pennsylvania Dutch, Romanian, Serbocroatian, Tamil, Telugu and Ukrainian. A list of the tables can be found here: <https://www.census.gov/hhes/socdemo/language/data/other/detailed-lang-tables.xls>.
The American Community Survey is an ongoing survey of approximately 3 million addresses every year and provides one of the most complete pictures of our population available. While the 2010 Census will produce a count of the nation’s population and basic demographics, the American Community Survey provides statistics on more than 40 topics, such as income, educational attainment, housing, family structure and more. All survey responses are strictly confidential and protected by law.