The most widely spoken domestic languages
We generally operate on the assumption that most Americans speak English or Spanish. While this is true in the broadest sense, the United States is a culturally diverse country, home to a plethora of languages.
American Community Survey of the US Census Bureau (ACS) asks more than one million Americans questions about their lives, families and backgrounds each year. A question asks respondents what language they mainly speak at home.
Migration policy used this data (while excluding English and Spanish) to let us know the languages most frequently spoken at home in each state.
Languages other than English in the United States
In 2019, around 78% (241 million) of the 308.8 million people aged five and over reported speaking only English at home, regardless of their birth. The remaining 22% (67.8 million) declared speaking a language other than english at home.
According to these data, Mandarin and Cantonese were the most commonly spoken languages other than English and Spanish in the United States, with more than 3.4 million speakers across the country.
Here is a list of the most commonly spoken languages at home in the United States, aside from English:
|Language||Population estimate||Share of foreign language speakers|
|Cantonese and Mandarin||3,495,000||5.2%|
|Tagalog and Filipino||1,764,000||2.6%|
|French and Cajun||1,172,000||1.7%|
|Languages of West Africa||589,000||0.9%|
|West Germanic languages||560,000||0.8%|
Tagalog is the second most spoken language in American households (after English / Spanish) with 1.7 million speakers, although it only reached number one in Nevada. Not surprisingly, Louisiana and the states bordering eastern Canada have a good number of francophones.
A closer analysis of these common languages reveals a fascinating history. Here’s a breakdown of the 5 most commonly spoken second languages (excluding English and Spanish) and the states where they are spoken.
1. Cantonese and Mandarin
Estimated number of speakers at national level: 3,495,000
Number of states where this is the most common: 17
States that they speak the language most often: California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Alabama, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.
Chinese immigrants came to America in large numbers since the mid-19th century when the California Gold Rush forced them to cross the Pacific Ocean. Today, there are over 5 million Chinese Americans across the country.
Estimated number of speakers at national level: 1,764,000
Number of states where this is the most common: 1
States that they speak the language most often: Nevada
Immigrants from the Philippines began to come to America in large numbers around the turn of the 19th century, but it was not until 1965 that the two skilled and educated workers came by the thousands. Today there are more 4 million Filipino Americans.
Estimated number of speakers at national level: 1,571,000
Number of states where this is the most common: 5
States that they speak the language most often: Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Mississippi and Georgia.
South Vietnamese immigration to the United States began just after the Vietnam War ended in 1975, and more and more Vietnamese have arrived since. Today, more than half of all Americans of Vietnamese descent live in California or Texas.
Estimated number of speakers at national level: 1,260,000
Number of states where this is the most common: 2
States that they speak the language most often: Michigan and Tennessee
Michigan alone has more 140,000 Arabic speakers. California has more than 190,000 speakers. Pew Research Center noted that Arabic is the fastest growing language in the United States, with the number of speakers increasing by 29% from 2010 to 2014.
Estimated number of speakers at national level: 1,172,000
Number of states where this is the most common: 4
States that they speak the language most often: Louisiana, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire.
After the Louisiana Purchase, French evolved from its original form, creating Louisiana French which also borrows words from the English, Spanish, Native American and African languages. To this day, it is still spoken by approximately 175,000 people in Louisiana and Texas.
The United States: a multilingual country
Although English, in all its diversity, is unmistakably the nation’s dominant national language, the United States has always had a complex multilingual story. Long before European settlers colonized North and South America, thousands of Indigenous languages flourished from coast to coast. Today, some indigenous languages are making a comeback as many states recognize their importance in the country’s history and culture.
With each new wave of immigrants residing in the country from all parts of the globe, the linguistic and cultural diversity of the United States increases.
The United States has one of the largest Chinese populations outside of China, a demographic shift that may accelerate in the years to come. Spanish is now the second most popular language in the country.
America is home to the largest English-speaking population in the world, but bilingualism has been on the rise in the country for decades – a trend that shows no signs of slowing down.