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The 10 Most Popular Languages in the US

By Dan at Accredited Language
Updated on Friday, May 1, 2015
Category: Languages

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Image by Elcobbola

The number of people in the US who speak a language other than English has more than doubled since 1980. That’s hardly surprising, given the ever-expanding diversity of language in the United States and the increasing trend toward bilingual households, but a few of the most common non-English languages spoken might surprise you.

According to a 2011 Census Bureau report, the following are the most popular languages in the United States:

10. Italian

Representing the largest decline on this list, Italian claims only 723,632 speakers – half as many as in 1980. Italian can still be heard in places like New York, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia.

9. Russian

The 905,843 Russian-speakers in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco, among other cities, have increased by 391 percent since 1980.

8. Arabic

The Arabic-speaking population in the US is larger than most people likely realize — especially in Dearborn, Michigan. As of 2011, the census recorded 951,699 native Arabic speakers. In 1980, there were only 251,409 Arabic speakers on record.

7. Korean

Speakers of Korean, located mainly in Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC and Chicago, have quadrupled over the last thirty years — they now number 1,141,277.

6. German

Found primarily in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington DC, German-speakers number 1,083,637, which is actually a 30 percent decrease in speakers since 1980.

5. French

The 1,301,443 French-speakers found primarily in New York, Washington DC, Boston and Miami. This number represents a 28 percent increase compared to 1980.

4. Vietnamese

With an increase of 510 percent since 1980, Vietnamese is the language with the biggest change. There are 1,419,539 speakers found in Los Angeles, San Jose, Houston and Dallas, among other cities.

3. Tagalog

This language from the Philippines boasts 1,594,413 speakers in the US – slightly more than tripling its numbers in the last three decades, and recently surpassing French and Vietnamese on this list. Speakers of Tagalog are concentrated mainly in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and San Diego.

2. Chinese

Just about 2,882,497 people speak a Chinese dialect such as Mandarin or Cantonese, an increase of 290 percent! You’re most likely to find Chinese dialect-speakers in New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco.

1. Spanish

With 37,579,787 speakers, the number of Spanish-speakers in the US has increased by 210 percent since 1980, with the highest concentrations in Los Angeles, New York, Miami and Chicago.

32 Responses to “The 10 Most Popular Languages in the US”

  1. Gloria Trevi Says:

    Little by little we are conquering USA, poco a poco los vamos conquistando, y no por la fuerza, si no por la cultura, venga!!!

  2. ETHAN Says:

    Nice list. The top three are definitely dead on! I a native Spanish speaker, and of course, I am perfectly fluent in English, but I am considering learning a third language. I know I only have two choices: French or Chinese. I know Chinese is very difficult and that it takes a at least five years to really be good at it, so I’ve decided to go for French. I like French anyway and it is a much cooler language too.

    I’ll first teach myself French and after I’m at a intermediate level I’ll go to a school to polish my French.

  3. Patricia Says:

    Hola!! I totally agree with the top 3! My native language is english but I am advanced in spanish and can hold a conversation for hours.I’m very glad that French is in the top 3 because I am learning that in school and taking a spanish 4 advacned class. I’m planning to learn chinese soon too! But I want to learn all the languages on this list for I am a language lover!!

  4. Cam C Says:

    Where does American Sign Language fit in?

  5. u1 Says:

    What about English?

  6. Chris Says:

    There are about 500,000 American Sign Language users in the US. So not in the top 10.

  7. LA DIVERSIDAD LINGÜISTICA EN EEUU | Josusierra's Blog/ Bloga Says:

    […] Source: […]

  8. Alicia Says:

    I think Spanish will continue to hold the 1st spot for at least another 50 years.

  9. Jack Billeck Says:

    What about American Sign Language? That is the 3rd most used language in US.

  10. Amy at Accredited Language Says:

    Hi Jack,

    Interesting question! (In fact, you may have inspired another blog post!)

    We wrote this post based on census reports, which (according to this study) count ASL as English (since people who use ASL in place of spoken English usually read and write in English, and therefore do not need separate voting ballots).

    Also according to the above study, the often-cited figure that ASL is the third-most used language in the US was based on two studies from 1974, one about ASL being used in court interpreting, and another about the presence of deafness in the US — neither is a suitable estimate of the actual amount of ASL-users in the US.

    The above study calls for a more accurate estimate of ASL usage in the US, as we currently do not have an effective way to measure this (and we certainly agree with this call to action!).

    Thanks for your question!

  11. Donna Says:

    Bonjour les États-Unis!

  12. mike Says:

    Somewhere in that list is Sign Language… I know someone is gonna call pedantics on “spoken” but ASL being it’s own language separate from English would rank in the top 10…

  13. theresa Says:

    italian is number 9, there was a time more people spoke italian in nyc then they did in rome, the times have certainly changed

  14. Harry English Says:

    There are more English speakers in China, then there are in England…fact..

  15. Marisol Says:

    I find ASL to be one of the most used languages in the United States.
    For the record if the estimate is not accurate enought? Why has no exam or type of testing been set-up for accurate future scores/ranking for ASL in the United States.

  16. dawis Says:

    Thats not the top 3 actually the third one is tagalog and french is fourth.

  17. Amy at Accredited Language Says:

    Thanks for pointing that out dawis; these things do change rather quickly! In the span of 4 years Tagalog has surpassed French. We’ve updated the post to reflect this.


    Amy at Accredited Language

  18. helow Says:

    hi every one , these languages except English most used language is Spanish but where is Somali language, so you know Minnesota is Somali city. most citizens are talking English and they also use Somali language……….

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    […] are filled with more than just English speakers and we have to reach out to them. Some of the major languages spoken in the United States are Spanish, Chinese, French, Tagalog (Filipino), and Vietnamese. While many of these people can […]

  20. JeffCoToe Says:

    Chinese?? Does that mean Mandarin or Cantonese? The two languages are mutually unintelligible, so that’s like calling Spanish and English “The American Language”.

  21. Dirk Says:

    Why do they still waste time w/French in h.s other than it’s easy, books are already paid for, teachers are unable to develop their own skills to match real world. lot of laziness to continue belief french is an important language outside of 0.005% who are academics and like to study things that are dying

  22. David Says:

    American Sign Language is third used in the US! Do your research better next time…

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    […] German is the third most spoken language in the U.S., but really it is Chinese, with over 2 million speakers in states such as New […]

  24. Tamashii Says:

    I noticed a problem,
    “The [i]1,301,443[/i] French-speakers…”
    “…Vietnamese is the language with the biggest change, with 1,419,539 speakers…”
    Vietnamese has a higher # of speakers than french. Vietnamese is in the top three, not french.

  25. Amy at Accredited Language Says:

    Hi Tamashil!

    Oops! Thanks for catching our mistake! The post has been revised.

  26. Mark Mw Says:

    How was Arabic omitted? The 2011 census report, which this article used as its source, puts the number of Arabic speakers in the US at 951,699, which is more than Portuguese, Italian, or Russian.

  27. Mark Mw Says:

    Dirk said:
    “Why do they still waste time w/French in h.s.”
    It turns out that French is second only to English as a global lingua franca (bridge language). It has more secondary speakers world-wide than any other language. It is by far more widely-spoken in Africa than any African language, for example.
    The popularity of German is more difficult to justify, but it is far easier to learn than other languages with similar global prevalence (Arabic, Russian).

  28. Amy at Accredited Language Says:

    Hi Mark Mw,

    Thank you for pointing out this oversight. The list has been updated to reflect Arabic’s presence.

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  30. Anonymous Says:

    With all of the Middle-East conflict(s), either Arabic will be the next spoken language followed by Russian or some form of Chinese.

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