The Most Commonly Spoken Foreign Languages In Each State

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The United States was founded on immigration and, over time, became a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities. With roots in varying parts of the world, it’s no wonder there are a multitude of languages spoken by American families all across the country. 

24/7 Tempo reviewed data from the American Community Survey 2015-2019 5-year estimates to find which language, other than English and Spanish, is most often spoken at home in each state. 

Spanish is by far the most spoken foreign language in the country, with 40.7 million people across the nation speaking it at home. That’s 13.4% of the country’s population. Spanish is the most commonly spoken language after English in all but four states — Maine and Vermont (French), Hawaii (Ilocano), and Alaska (Native language). We excluded Spanish from our analysis in order to identify more nuanced regional differences. Also from the ACS, we considered data on the ancestry of state residents.

The next most commonly spoken foreign language, Chinese, is actually a group of languages and dialects. Roughly 3.4 million people in the United States (1.1% of the population) speak some version of Chinese at home — Mandarin and Cantonese are the most popular. 

Vietnamese follows behind with just over 1.5 million people in the U.S. speaking it. Chinese is the most commonly spoken foreign language, aside from Spanish, in 18 states, and Vietnamese in five. 

Many people can identify their ancestry, but far fewer speak the language of their ancestors’ origin. For example, many U.S. residents have German roots, but only a tiny fraction currently speak the language at home. This would make sense as immigrants assimilate and newer generations speak English rather than their parents’ mother tongue. 

About a fifth of U.S. citizens were born outside of the country, and 97% of all Americans identify with an ancestry other than American. You can find out about the most unusual ancestry in every state here.

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