The United States was founded on immigration and, over time, became a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities. This has been even more pronounced in the past few decades alone. With roots in varying parts of the world, it’s no wonder there are a multitude of languages spoken by American families all across the country. And just as the cultural mix differs from state to state, so do the most commonly spoken foreign languages.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Consumer Survey to find which foreign language is most often spoken at home in each state.
Spanish may be on the verge of not being dubbed a foreign language anymore, with 40.5 million people across the nation speaking it at home. That’s 12.5% of the country’s population. In all but three states, Spanish is the most commonly spoken foreign language aside from English. For this reason, we eliminated Spanish from the rank so other foreign languages spoken in each state had the opportunity to shine.
The next most commonly spoken foreign language, Chinese, is actually a group of languages and dialects. Roughly 2.1 million people in the U.S. speak some version of Chinese at home — Mandarin and Cantonese are the most popular. German follows behind as the third most commonly foreign language with more than 884,200 people speaking it. Both Chinese and German are the most commonly spoken foreign languages, aside from Spanish, in seven states.
Many people can identify their ancestry, but far fewer speak the language of their ancestors’ origin. For example, while at least 9.4% of U.S. residents have German roots, only 0.3% currently speak the language at home. This would make sense as immigrants assimilate and newer generations speak English rather than their parents’ mother tongue. Vietnamese is the exception, however, with a near equivalent share of residents speaking Vietnamese as those identifying Vietnamese ancestry, at 0.46% and 0.49%, respectively.
To determine the most commonly spoken foreign language in each state, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Consumer Survey on languages spoken most often at home. We excluded Spanish, the most commonly spoken language in nearly every state after English, from our analysis in order to identify more nuanced regional differences. Also from the ACS, we considered data on the ancestry of state residents.