U.S. English Foundation Research


Many Languages, One America: Introduction

Over the history of the United States, many languages have risen to the rank of “most important foreign language to know.” A century ago, this title was bestowed on German. In subsequent years, the spotlight moved to French, then Japanese, and today is cast on Spanish. Tomorrow, Arabic or Chinese might take center stage.

What can be said for sure is that the United States has never been a land of just two languages. We have revolved around one central language — English — with many more languages making up the distinctly American accent. The amount of linguistic diversity varies between states, and even within states. Speakers of non-English languages, 321 at last count, are not evenly distributed within the United States, leaving each state, county, and metropolitan area with its own unique linguistic composition.

The scope of these differences illustrate the perilous nature of concentrating on a second or third language when creating language policy. Linguistic diversity in America encompasses far more than even the most ambitious efforts could meet. The true degree is brought to light by this report.