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English on the wane in large American cities

Almost half of the inhabitants of large cities in the US speak a foreign language. Nationally, one in five spoke a language other than English last year, newly released US Census Bureau data for 2017 shows.

Published: September 24, 2018, 10:33 am

    In New York City and Houston it is already 49 percent, and in Los Angeles it is 59 percent. In Chicago it is 36 percent and in Phoenix it is 38 percent, information from FactFinder shows.

    Some 48.2 percent of residents in America’s five largest cities no longer speak English at home. In fact, foreign language speakers in total have reached a record of nearly 67 million, up seven million since 2010.

    Since 1990, it has increased by nearly 35 million. The number of non-English speakers has more than doubled since 1990, and almost tripled since 1980.

    Among the findings for 2017, a record of 66.6 million US residents – native-born, legal immigrants, and illegal immigrants – aged five and older spoke a language other than English at home.

    As a share of the population, 21.8 percent of Americans speak a foreign language at home.

    In 2017, there were 85 cities and Census Designated Places (CDP) in which a majority of residents spoke a foreign language at home. These include Hialeah, Florida (95 percent); Laredo, Texas (92 percent); and East Los Angeles, Calif. (90 percent).

    It even includes places like Elizabeth, N.J. (76 percent); Skokie, Illinois (56 percent); and Germantown, Maryland, and Bridgeport, Connecticut (both at 51 percent).

    One in five Americans now live in a city or CDP in which one-third of the population speaks a foreign language at home, while in rural areas outside cities only 8 percent speak a language other than English as their mother tongue.

    For public school students, the data indicates that nationally nearly one in four now speak a language other than English at home.

    In California, 44 percent of school-age children between the ages of 5-17 speak a foreign language at home, and it’s roughly one-third in Texas, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, and Florida. Surprisingly, of those who speak a foreign language at home, 85 percent were born in the United States.

    Even among adults 18 and older, more than one-third of those who do not speak English at home were born in America. And at least 25.9 million (39 percent) told the Census Bureau that they speak English less than very well.

    Languages with more than a million speakers in 2017 were Spanish (41 million); Chinese (3.5 million); Tagalog from the Philippines (1.7 million); Vietnamese (1.5 million); Arabic (1.2 million); French Haitian Creole (1.2 million); and Korean (1.1 million).

    Of languages with more than 400 000 speakers in 2017, the largest percentage increases from 2010 to 2017 were among speakers of Telugu, up 86 percent, Arabic up 42 percent, Hindi up 42 percent, Urdu up 30 percent, Chinese up 23 percent, Gujarati up 22 percent and Haitian Creole up 19 percent.

    Telugu is a language native to India. Hindi and Gujarati are also spoken in India, and Urdu is the national language of Pakistan.

    States with the largest share of their populations speaking a foreign language at home in 2017 were California (44 percent); Texas (36 percent); New Mexico (33 percent); New Jersey (32 percent); New York and Nevada (both 31 percent); Florida (30 percent); Arizona (27 percent); Hawaii (26 percent); and Massachusetts (24 percent).

    The US Census Bureau released some of the data from the 2017 American Community Survey (ACS) which is by far the largest survey taken by the federal government each year and includes over two million households.

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