How Many Americans Speak a Second Language

Eugenio González

by Eugenio González

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67.8 million Americans speak a second language at home, according to Census Bureau data from 2019. In 1980 there were 23.06 million Americans who spoke a second language at home, a third of what it is today. That rapid growth is even evident when looking at data from 2010. 

Between 2010 and 2018, second language speakers increased 13% while English-only speakers increased 5%. It means that over 1 in 5 U.S. residents speak a second language at home (22% of the population). 

What is the second most spoken language in the USA

Spanish is by far the second most spoken language in the USA after English, with 41.8 million residents speaking Spanish at home. That is equal to about 13.5% of the population, and 62% of second language speakers. 

What are the top 5 languages spoken in the US

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Here are the top 5 languages spoken in the US according to the American Community Survey other than English: 

  1. Spanish: Spoken by 41.8 million residents

  2. Chinese: Spoken by 3.5 million residents. Chinese includes Mandaring and Cantonese

  3. French: Spoken by 2.1 million residents. French includes Haitian and Cajun

  4. Russian and Polish: Spoken by 2.0 million residents. Categorized as “Slavic Languages”

  5. Tagalog/Filipino: Spoken by 1.8 million residents

The Spanish speaking population in the United States is far larger than for any other language. Other popular languages other than the top 5 include: Vietnamese (1.6 million), German (1.4 million), Arabic (1.3 million), and Korean (1.1 million). Other Indo-European languages (such as Hindi and Urdu) are spoken by 5.9 million residents, collectively.

Top 10 states with largest share of second language speakers

States bordering Mexico dominate the rankings, with all four of them reaching the top 10 rankings of share of second language speakers. 

  1. California: 44% of residents

  2. Texas: 36%

  3. New Mexico: 34%

  4. New Jersey: 32%

  5. Nevada: 31%

  6. New York: 31%

  7. Florida: 30%

  8. Hawaii: 28%

  9. Arizona: 27%

  10. Massachusetts: 25%

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Traveling is a great way to learn a second language

Source: American Community Survey “Language spoken at home - 2019”

Which foreign language is in demand in the USA?

Spanish is the most in demand foreign language in the US. As the second-most spoken language in the US, with 42 million speakers, the Spanish population in the US is actually larger than many Latinamerican countries. 

According to a study from the New American Economy, Spanish was the most in-demand second language on online job listings for 2015. Almost half a million job listings had Spanish specifically listed as a required skill. The next closest language was Chinese, with 37 thousand job listings. 

Will learning Spanish help my career?

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The rising demand for Spanish in the US and the growth of the Hispanic population in the states has made Spanish more and more relevant in the workplace. 

While Spanish is spoken by many in the US, the share of non-heritage language speakers that speak a second language is lower, at an estimated 1 in 8 americans. This gives a skills advantage to Americans who did not grow up in a Spanish speaking household but do speak Spanish.

With 72% of the world’s population not speaking English, a second language can be a great advantage for international business. As with anything, the usefulness of knowing a second language varies greatly depending on geography and work. 

Europe, with many countries close together and diverse languages, knowing a second language is more essential for the workplace, and more common. Globalization has increased the overall importance of learning a second or even a third language. 

For Americans, Spanish is the most popular second language because of the number of speakers in the United States and the proximity to Mexico and South America, where Spanish is the dominating language. 

Where can I learn Spanish?

One of the best ways to learn Spanish is by doing a Spanish immersion course abroad. Traveling abroad forces you to utilize the language daily, and you’ll see enormous progress with your Spanish. You can do a Spanish immersion vacation, or go to a Spanish school for 1 or 2 weeks.

If you’re not looking to travel yet, you can also take Spanish lessons online. These typically cost $8 to $15 dollars per hour of lessons when you hire a remote instructor from Latin America. On LangAway, you can find several affordable online Spanish lessons so you can start speaking a second language today! 

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