U.S. English Foundation Research
Throughout 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.
The United States has never been a land of just two languages. We have revolved around one central language—English—with many other languages contributing to the melting pot culture of the United States. The amount of linguistic diversity in our nation varies between states, and even within states. Speakers of non-English languages, 325 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 illustrates the perilous nature of concentrating on a second or third language when creating language policy. Linguistic diversity in America encompasses far more than what even the most ambitious translation efforts could meet. By encouraging all residents of the United States to learn English as a common, shared language, the doors to communication open to all and linguistic barriers are broken down.
In 2005, the U.S. English Foundation published Many Languages, One America to highlight the true degree of linguistic diversity within the United States. With an influx of immigration, rampant government multilingualism and new Census Bureau data, it is important to update this briefing with the most current language usage statistics.
To view state-specific data, please see the links below:
District of Columbia