The United States, one of the largest countries in the world, is the global cultural center. Its population reaches more than 330 million, including multiple nationalities, making the country a pioneer in terms of linguistic and cultural diversity.
As the complex history of this multilingual country shows, the United States was once the habitat of thousands of indigenous languages. Many years before European settlers colonized North and South America, indigenous languages thrived across the whole area of the US. These days, many of those languages emerge again and remind us of their historical and cultural importance.
The number of immigrants coming to the US is constantly increasing, making the country’s linguistic diversity more and more prominent.
There are hundreds of common languages spoken across the United States, but some of them are the undisputable ranking leaders due to their outstanding number of speakers. Read on to find out the five most spoken languages in the US.
With 254 million native English speakers, English is the most widely spoken language in the United States.
Despite being the dominant language, it hasn’t been established as the country’s official language on the federal level. This issue is related to the right protected by the US Constitution that allows Americans to use any language they want.
Although English isn’t the official form of communication according to federal law, most US states have declared it as their primary language of use.
The American English language is spoken in multiple regions across the United States area. Therefore about 30 regional dialects have been acknowledged. Whereas two-thirds of Americans speak with Standard American dialect (also called General American dialect or non-regional American accent), a significant part of the community uses more distinctive dialects.
There are roughly 30 reported American dialects that contrast with each other in terms of grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and pronunciation. They are split into four groups based on the geographical zone: the Northern, the Southern, the Midland, and the Western dialects. Among those groups, the most characteristic dialects are Bostonian, Texan, Western Pennsylvania, and Pittsburgh.
As the second most spoken language in the United States, Spanish is used by over 43 million American inhabitants across the country. The number is supposed to exceed 72 million by 2030.
With such an enormous amount of Spanish speakers, the United States has the second-highest Spanish-speaking population. It falls right behind Mexico, beating South American countries and Spain.
Spanish language use in the US has seen a rise of over 230% since the 1980s and is constantly growing. The largest concentrations of Hispanic communities are located in major US cities, such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Miami. However, Spanish speakers can be found in every American state.
Along with the numerous Spanish speakers in the American community, the robust Hispanic culture has also found its place. Many names for American states and cities derive from Spanish. For example, Montana state draws its name from montaña – a Spanish word that means “mountain.” Also, Nevada in Spanish stands for “snowy.”
A wide range of names for American cities is of Hispanic language origin as well. For instance, Las Vegas means “the meadows,” Fresno stands for “ash tree,” and Buena Vista – “good view.”
American English vocabulary has also ingested multiple Spanish words that American use daily. Among the most famous Spanish expressions are tortilla, cafeteria, platinum, or embargo.
As the Spanish language is the apparent pioneer when it comes to the most spoken non-English language in the US, there’s a growing demand for Spanish language skills to be demonstrated in international business and other professional sectors. The help of high-quality translating and interpreting services is the priority in ensuring that any conversation with a Spanish-speaking client goes smooth and stress-free.
The Chinese language and its variants, including Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, and others, are also among the most commonly spoken non-English languages in the United States.
The number of Chinese speakers is estimated to reach over 3.5 million these days, which accounts for a 290% increase since the 1980s.
The use of the Chinese language in the United States emerged when Chinese immigrants stepped onto the American land to try their luck in the famous California Gold Rush. The number of immigrants from China has been continuously growing since then.
It’s commonly reported that Chinese speakers in the US mostly use the Cantonese variant of the Chinese language.
Chinese-speaking inhabitants can be found in around 17 American states, including New York, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado. However, the largest Chinese populations are gathered in California and its two major cities – San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Apart from the language, the Chinese culture is also a prominent factor in everyday American life. Chinese legacy can be detected in the form of lively Chinese-American communities – Chinatowns – spread across all states. There are 12 Chinatowns in New York City alone.
It might not be as widely recognized as its predecessors, but Tagalog comes as another dominant language spoken in the US.
The language originates from the Philippines, and its standardized form – Filipino – is one of the official languages recognized in the country.
The United States is home to over 1.7 million Tagalog speakers who are mainly located in the states of California and Nevada. Over 40% of Filipinos in America are located in the California state. Still, many reside in Hawaii, where they first arrived in the early 20th century to work in the agriculture sector.
The national language of Vietnam is also one of the most common in the US, with over 1.5 million Vietnamese speakers with populations concentrated mainly in the states of California and Texas.
The high number of America’s inhabitants speaking Vietnamese is the result of immigrants’ influx to the US following the Vietnam War, which cause Vietnamese to seek asylum and reunite with families. Since the Vietnam War ended in 1975, the US has seen roughly a 500% increase in Vietnamese speakers due to south Vietnamese immigration. We can observe the number still growing to this day.
French and French Creole
With over 1.3 million speakers, French is another popular language spoken in the United States, including Louisiana Creole French – a mix of French and African languages.
Creole French emerged in the 17th century when French settlers influenced the Louisiana territory. The controlled area became a blend of French, Spanish, and Native American cultures. When the importation of African slaves increased after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the French and West African languages mixed, creating the Lousiana Creole French.
Although French Creole isn’t as widely used as the standard French these days, it’s still used in southern Lousiana, for example, in New Orleans. Other than Louisiana, the standard French speakers are found in states bordering Eastern Canada, like Maine and Vermont. The standard form of French belongs to the list of languages, right next to Spanish and German, currently taught at American high schools and colleges.
Like the Spanish language, the standard French language has a noticeable influence on American English. The Americans adopted multiple French words into their everyday vocabulary. The most common French words incorporated into English are a restaurant, champagne, and technique.
Following the French language, Arabic also has its place among the commonly spoken languages in the US.
Over 1.2 million Arabic speakers are located mostly in the states of New York, Tennessee, Michigan, and California. Around 140,000 Arabic-speaking inhabitants are based in Michigan, while there are over 190,000 people reported speaking Arabic in California.
It’s noticed that the Arabic language is the fastest growing language in the United States seeing an increase of 29% within only four years – from 2010 to 2014. This significant growth is related to the continuous immigration from Middle Eastern and North African countries.
Another Asian origin language – Korean – belongs to the most widely spoken languages in the United States.
Almost 1.1 million Korean speakers are located mainly in the states of Virginia, Georgia, and Alabama. Still, they can also be found in the US major cities like Chicago, Washington, and New York.
Koreans in North America are the third-largest population of Koreans based outside of Korea, following China and Japan. The influx of Korean nationals to the US started in the 1900s that was linked to working in agricultural plantations, particularly sugar and pineapple farming.
The European language is also listed as one of the most commonly spoken languages in the US with a number of around 1 million speakers.
German speakers, who started to arrive in the country in the late 1600s, are reported to be spread across nine American states. These include Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and South Carolina.
Although the popularity of the German language slightly decreased over the years, it’s still used in specific areas featuring robust German culture.
German is also one of the few languages, along with French and Spanish, that is currently taught at American schools. This makes the German culture still prominent in the United States.
The Bottom Line
The United States is one of the world’s largest countries, with numerous nationalities inhabiting its vast area. Although this culturally diverse country’s dominant national language is English, many other languages are spoken as well.
With such many different languages, it might be challenging to communicate with others, whether the conversation is related to your personal or business needs.
At Lighthouse Translations, we believe that a reliable translating and interpreting company with comprehensive expertise can help you successfully run the dialogues to achieve your desired goals no matter the spoken language. Contact us and let us become a valuable extension of your business.