The Most Commonly Spoken Foreign Language in Each State

August 23, 2018 by Cheyenne Buckingham

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.

Click here to see the most commonly spoken foreign language in each state.

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.

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1. Alabama
> Most popular language: Arabic
> Residents who speak Arabic at home: 10,866
> Arabic-speaking population: 0.2%

More than 10,000 residents in Alabama speak Arabic at home, making it the most commonly spoken foreign language other than Spanish. According to Census data, at least 5,000 people, or 0.10% of the state’s population, can trace their ancestry to Arabic-speaking countries. This means that double the number of residents who speak Arabic at home don’t share the ancestry. Despite Arabic being the most popular foreign language spoken in Alabama, only 0.2% of the population speak it.

Source: Thinkstock

2. Alaska
> Most popular language: Aleut
> Residents who speak Aleut at home: 29,134
> Aleut-speaking population: 3.9%

More commonly known as Eskimo-Aleut languages, Alaska is the only state with this group of languages as the most commonly spoken languages, not counting English and Spanish. The Eskimo and Aleut are indigenous people native to some of the most northern parts of the globe.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Aleut has two dialects, and Eskimo consists of Yupik and Inuit, generally divided geographically. Yupik is spoken in Siberia and southwestern Alaska, and Inuit in northern Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. Nearly 4% of Alaska residents speak one or more of the Eskimo-Aleut languages.

Source: Thinkstock

3. Arizona
> Most popular language: Navajo
> Residents who speak Navajo at home: 85,707
> Navajo-speaking population: 1.2%

Arizona is one of two states where the leading foreign language, aside from Spanish, is Navajo. Those who identify as part of the Native American Navajo people are also referred to as the Diné, meaning “the People” or “children of the people.” The Navajo Nation stretches over 27,000 square miles across Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. In Arizona, 230,444 residents have Native American ancestry, and more than 85,700 people speak Navajo.

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4. Arkansas
> Most popular language: Marshallese
> Residents who speak Marshallese at home: 6,948
> Marshallese-speaking population: 0.2%

Arkansas is the only state with Marshallese as its most commonly spoken foreign language, aside from Spanish. Marshallese is the language spoken by those who are native to the Marshall Islands, which are located in the North Pacific. Ever since the 1980s, natives of the Marshall Islands, which had been a possession of the U.S., have migrated to Arkansas’ Ozark Mountains area, seeking greater opportunity. Today, 8,700 state residents have Marshallese ancestry, and 0.2% of the state population speaks Marshallese.

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5. California
> Most popular language: Tagalog
> Residents who speak Tagalog at home: 651,703
> Tagalog-speaking population: 1.7%

In California, 1.7% of the population speaks Tagalog, one of the languages spoken in the Philippines. The state is home to a large Filipino population — about 1.2 million residents have Filipino ancestry, or about 3.0% of the state’s population.

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6. Colorado
> Most popular language: German
> Residents who speak German at home: 20,901
> German-speaking population: 0.4%

German is the most commonly spoken foreign language in seven states. While 20,901 people living in Colorado speak the language, nearly 760,000 state residents have German ancestry, nearly 14% of the state’s population.

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7. Connecticut
> Most popular language: Portuguese
> Residents who speak Portuguese at home: 41,573
> Portuguese-speaking population: 1.2%

Portuguese is the leading foreign language in four states, including Connecticut. More than 41,500 state residents speak Portuguese, or about 1.2% of the state’s population. About 1.0% of the population has Portuguese ancestry.

Source: Thinkstock

8. Delaware
> Most popular language: Chinese
> Residents who speak Chinese at home: 8,052
> Chinese-speaking population: 0.8%

Chinese is the most commonly spoken foreign language in Delaware. In Delaware, 10,574 residents have Chinese ancestry, which is not far from the 8,052 state residents who speak the language at home.

Source: Thinkstock

9. Florida
> Most popular language: Haitian
> Residents who speak Haitian at home: 401,919
> Haitian-speaking population: 1.9%

The Sunshine State is home to the largest Haitian-speaking population in the country. Of the 866,168 people who speak Haitian in the U.S., 401,919 live in Florida. Haitian, or Haitian Creole, is one of the official languages of Haiti. Those who speak Haitian Creole in Florida make up nearly 2% of the state’s population.

Source: Thinkstock

10. Georgia
> Most popular language: Korean
> Residents who speak Korean at home: 48,900
> Korean-speaking population: 0.5%

Georgia is the only state with Korean as its most commonly spoken foreign language, after Spanish. There are 58,724 residents in Georgia with Korean ancestry, not far above the 48,900 who currently speak the language in the state. Georgia may have a larger Korean population because of the state’s close ties with Korea. The Consulate General of the Republic of Korea, Southeast U.S. Korean Chamber of Commerce, Korean American Chamber of Commerce, and Korean American Coalition are all located in Atlanta, Georgia.

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11. Hawaii
> Most popular language: Ilocano
> Residents who speak Ilocano at home: 64,660
> Ilocano-speaking population: 4.5%

Ilocano is the third-largest language spoken in the Philippines, with an estimated 7 million people there speaking it as a first language. Only 105,578 people in the U.S. speak the language, with more than half living in Hawaii. Nearly 65,000 state residents speak Ilocano, about 4.5% of the state’s population.

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12. Idaho
> Most popular language: German
> Residents who speak German at home: 4,552
> German-speaking population: 0.3%

Idaho is one of seven states where German is the most commonly spoken foreign language, after Spanish. More than 11% of Idaho’s population has documented German ancestry, a much larger share than the mere 0.3% who speak German at home.

Source: Thinkstock

13. Illinois
> Most popular language: Polish
> Residents who speak Polish at home: 183,401
> Polish-speaking population: 1.4%

Illinois has both the largest number of residents who speak Polish and have Polish ancestry. There are 183,401 people who speak Polish in the state, the most of any state. For perspective, the next largest Polish-speaking population resides in New York, at just 96,337. Chicago has an especially heavy concentration of Polish people who migrated to the city over a century ago.

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14. Indiana
> Most popular language: German
> Residents who speak German at home: 31,121
> German-speaking population: 0.5%

Nearly 17% of residents in Indiana have German ancestry, far greater than the 0.5% of state residents who speak the language at home. German remains the most commonly spoken foreign language in Indiana after Spanish.

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15. Iowa
> Most popular language: Chinese
> Residents who speak Chinese at home: 13,445
> Chinese-speaking population: 0.4%

Chinese is the leading foreign language in Iowa, not including Spanish. Despite it being the most commonly spoken foreign language, only 0.4% of the Midwest state’s population currently speaks the language at home, and only about 0.5% have Chinese ancestry.

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16. Kansas
> Most popular language: Vietnamese
> Residents who speak Vietnamese at home: 11,595
> Vietnamese-speaking population: 0.4%

Excluding Spanish, the most commonly spoken foreign language in Kansas is Vietnamese. However, only 0.4% of the population speaks Vietnamese compared with the 7.3% who speak Spanish.

Source: Thinkstock

17. Kentucky
> Most popular language: German
> Residents who speak German at home: 11,537
> German-speaking population: 0.3%

German and Chinese are the most frequently spoken foreign languages in all states, each the most spoken in seven states. In Kentucky, German is the most commonly spoken foreign language after Spanish. While only 0.3% of state residents speak the language at home, 10.1% have documented German ancestry.

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18. Louisiana
> Most popular language: French
> Residents who speak French at home: 70,887
> French-speaking population: 1.5%

Not surprisingly, French is the most commonly spoken foreign language in Louisiana. Does Mardi Gras ring any bells? Nearly one in 10 Louisiana residents have French ancestry.

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19. Maine
> Most popular language: French
> Residents who speak French at home: 31,205
> French-speaking population: 2.3%

Maine, which shares a border with the French-speaking part of Canada, is home to quite a few French speakers — about 2.3% of residents speak the language at home, and 11.4% have French ancestry. When removing Spanish from the equation, French is the leading foreign language in five states.

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20. Maryland
> Most popular language: Chinese
> Residents who speak Chinese at home: 55,312
> Chinese-speaking population: 0.9%

Of Maryland’s 6 million residents, some 55,300 speak Chinese — not even a full 1% of the population. Still, Chinese is the leading foreign language behind Spanish — 7.7% of state residents speak Spanish at home.

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21. Massachusetts
> Most popular language: Portuguese
> Residents who speak Portuguese at home: 167,442
> Portuguese-speaking population: 2.5%

It’s fitting that the largest Portuguese festival in the world is held in the state that has the most Portuguese speakers. A total of 219,173 people in Massachusetts have ancestors from Portugal, and another 75,696 residents trace their ancestry to Brazil, where Portuguese is the official language.

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22. Michigan
> Most popular language: Arabic
> Residents who speak Arabic at home: 146,370
> Arabic-speaking population: 1.5%

Michigan is one of six states where Arabic is the leading spoken foreign language, aside from Spanish. There are 146,370 state residents who speak the language, or 1.5% of Michigan’s population. Michigan is home to the largest share of residents with Lebanese and Iraqi ancestry, both of which are Arabic-speaking countries.

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23. Minnesota
> Most popular language: Hmong
> Residents who speak Hmong at home: 64,736
> Hmong-speaking population: 1.2%

The Hmong is an ethnic group living predominantly in China and Southeast Asia. According to the Census, about 219,250 people in the U.S. have Hmong ancestors. In Minnesota, about 29% of that number claim Hmong ancestry.

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24. Mississippi
> Most popular language: Muskogean languages
> Residents who speak Muskogean at home: 4,507
> Muskogean languages-speaking population: 0.2%

The leading spoken foreign language in Mississippi is a group of six Native American languages called the Muskogean languages. The Choctaw and Chickasaw are two peoples under the Muskogean classification, and both are prevalent in the state. About 21,992 state residents have Native American ancestry, yet only 4,507 speak one of the six Muskogean languages.

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25. Missouri
> Most popular language: Chinese
> Residents who speak Chinese at home: 16,789
> Chinese-speaking population: 0.3%

Missouri is one of seven states where Chinese is the most commonly foreign spoken language after Spanish. Nearly 24,600 state residents have Chinese ancestry, yet only 16,789 currently speak the language at home. For the nearly 8,000 people who don’t speak Chinese but have ancestry, it could be the case that their Chinese ancestors are more distant.

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26. Montana
> Most popular language: Other Native North American
> Residents who speak Other Native North American languages at home: 7,421
> Other Native North American languages-speaking population: 0.7%

Montana is home to at least seven federally recognized Native American peoples. The most commonly spoken foreign language in the state is a group of Native American languages not counted among the 217 Native American languages the Census Bureau tracks. More than 44,800 residents in Montana have Native American ancestry.

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27. Nebraska
> Most popular language: Vietnamese
> Residents who speak Vietnamese at home: 7,399
> Vietnamese-speaking population: 0.4%

An estimated 1.5 million people speak Vietnamese in the U.S. Of the 1.9 million people living in Nebraska, nearly 7,400 speak the language, or about 0.4% of the population. Unlike most states, the number of people who speak the most common foreign language in Nebraska is greater than the number of people with the respective ancestry. Only 5,968 residents have Vietnamese ancestry.

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28. Nevada
> Most popular language: Tagalog
> Residents who speak Tagalog at home: 67,066
> Tagalog-speaking population: 2.3%

California and Nevada are the only two states where the most common foreign spoken language, not including Spanish, is Tagalog. Of the 2.9 million residents in Nevada, 67,066 speak Tagalog, one of the languages spoken in the Philippines. While the Filipino population in Nevada is not nearly as high as the Spanish population — over one in five state residents speak Spanish at home — the Filipino population is considered the fastest-growing minority in the state. In Nevada, 2.3% of the population speaks Tagalog, and 4.2% have documented Filipino ancestry.

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29. New Hampshire
> Most popular language: French
> Residents who speak French at home: 17,417
> French-speaking population: 1.3%

French is the leading foreign language, after Spanish, in New Hampshire, although the difference is not great. Just 2.1% of state residents speak Spanish, while 1.3% speak French. In addition, nearly one in 10 New Hampshire residents have French ancestry, likely because New Hampshire is one of four New England states that border Quebec, Canada’s French-speaking province.

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30. New Jersey
> Most popular language: Chinese
> Residents who speak Chinese at home: 98,550
> Chinese-speaking population: 1.1%

After Spanish, the next most commonly spoken foreign language in New Jersey is Chinese. Of the near 9 million people who live in New Jersey, about 152,000 have Chinese ancestry, more than the 98,550 state residents who currently speak the language at home.

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31. New Mexico
> Most popular language: Navajo
> Residents who speak Navajo at home: 61,794
> Navajo-speaking population: 3.0%

Like Arizona, the leading foreign language in New Mexico, after Spanish, is Navajo — the country’s largest Native American people. The Navajo Nation stretches over 27,000 square miles across Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. In New Mexico, 5.25% of residents have American Indian ancestry, and 3.0% of people speak Navajo.

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32. New York
> Most popular language: Chinese
> Residents who speak Chinese at home: 412,971
> Chinese-speaking population: 2.1%

New York is home to the second-largest Chinese-speaking population in the nation. Nearly 413,000 people in the state speak Chinese, or 2.1% of the state’s population. Some 608,000 people have Chinese ancestry..

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33. North Carolina
> Most popular language: Arabic
> Residents who speak Arabic at home: 28,396
> Arabic-speaking population: 0.3%

North Carolina is one of six states where Arabic is the leading foreign language after Spanish. At least 2,075 state residents can trace their ancestry to one of several Arabic-speaking countries, far fewer than the 28,396 residents who speak the language currently.

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34. North Dakota
> Most popular language: German
> Residents who speak German at home: 6,104
> German-speaking population: 0.8%

While just over 6,100 North Dakota residents speak German at home, over 31% of people in the state have German ancestry. German is the leading foreign language after Spanish, with 0.8% of the population speaking it — 1 percentage point less than the 1.8% who speak Spanish.

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35. Ohio
> Most popular language: Arabic
> Residents who speak Arabic at home: 49,343
> Arabic-speaking population: 0.4%

Approximately 1.3 million people in the U.S. speak Arabic. Of the 11.6 million people who live in Ohio, 49,343 speak Arabic at home, or 0.4% of the state’s population.

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36. Oklahoma
> Most popular language: Vietnamese
> Residents who speak Vietnamese at home: 18,160
> Vietnamese-speaking population: 0.5%

The most commonly spoken foreign language other than Spanish in Oklahoma is Vietnamese. Interestingly enough, the share of the population that has Vietnamese ancestry in Oklahoma is equivalent to the share of state residents who speak the language at home. Both make up 0.5% of Oklahoma’s population.

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37. Oregon
> Most popular language: Vietnamese
> Residents who speak Vietnamese at home: 23,952
> Vietnamese-speaking population: 0.6%

Oregon is home to 23,952 Vietnamese speakers, which slightly exceeds the number of state residents who are of Vietnamese descent at 23,295. Vietnamese is the leading foreign language after Spanish, even though only 0.6% of people living in Oregon speak it.

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38. Pennsylvania
> Most popular language: Chinese
> Residents who speak Chinese at home: 61,796
> Chinese-speaking population: 0.5%

Chinese is the most commonly spoken foreign language, after Spanish, in seven states in the Midwest and East Coast. Pennsylvania is one such state, where 61,796 people, or 0.5% of the state’s population, speak the language.

Source: Thinkstock

39. Rhode Island
> Most popular language: Portuguese
> Residents who speak Portuguese at home: 29,082
> Portuguese-speaking population: 2.8%

Portuguese is the leading foreign language in four states, including Rhode Island. The New England state has the largest share of residents with Portuguese ancestry. Just over 7% of the state’s population are of Portuguese descent, considerably more than the 2.8% of state residents who currently speak the language at home.

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40. South Carolina
> Most popular language: German
> Residents who speak German at home: 10,309
> German-speaking population: 0.2%

About 7% of state residents in South Carolina have German ancestry, but only 0.2% currently speak the language at home. Despite the small share, German is still the most commonly spoken foreign language in the state after Spanish.

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41. South Dakota
> Most popular language: Dakota languages
> Residents who speak Dakota languages at home: 11,442
> Dakota languages-speaking population: 1.3%

The leading foreign language in South Dakota other than Spanish is Dakota. Dakota, along with Lakota, are two native American peoples that speak the Siouan languages of the Great Plains. Some 4.7% of state residents have Native American ancestry, and 1.3% speak Dakota. Of the 17,592 people who speak Dakota in the U.S., 11,442 reside in South Dakota.

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42. Tennessee
> Most popular language: Arabic
> Residents who speak Arabic at home: 18,849
> Arabic-speaking population: 0.3%

Arabic is the most commonly spoken foreign language, aside from Spanish, in Tennessee, even though only 0.3% of state residents speak the language. Only 0.6% of those living in Tennessee can trace their ancestry to one of several Arabic-speaking countries.

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43. Texas
> Most popular language: Vietnamese
> Residents who speak Vietnamese at home: 228,453
> Vietnamese-speaking population: 0.8%

In Texas, the leading foreign language after Spanish is Vietnamese, even though only 0.8% of the population currently speaks it at home. A considerably larger share of state residents speak Spanish, at nearly 28%. This is likely because Texas is one of the bordering states with Mexico.

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44. Utah
> Most popular language: Portuguese
> Residents who speak Portuguese at home: 10,287
> Portuguese-speaking population: 0.3%

Portuguese is the most commonly spoken foreign language in three East Coast states — and Utah. Utah is home to an ever-growing Brazilian population, likely due to the Mormon Church’s influence on Brazilian immigration in the early 20th century. Today, 10,287 residents in Utah speak Portuguese, about 0.3% of the state’s population.

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45. Vermont
> Most popular language: French
> Residents who speak French at home: 6,850
> French-speaking population: 1.1%

Vermont is home to a considerable share of residents with French ancestry. Nearly 49,900 state residents can trace their ancestry to a French-speaking country, about 8% of the state population. Vermont also has the fourth-highest French-speaking population nationwide.

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46. Virginia
> Most popular language: Arabic
> Residents who speak Arabic at home: 57,014
> Arabic-speaking population: 0.7%

Of the 8.4 million people who call Virginia home, 57,014, or 0.7% of the state’s population, speak Arabic. Still, Arabic is the leading foreign language in Virginia after Spanish.

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47. Washington
> Most popular language: Vietnamese
> Residents who speak Vietnamese at home: 62,279
> Vietnamese-speaking population: 0.9%

Unlike most foreign languages in the U.S., the share of those who speak Vietnamese at home is nearly the same as the share of those who have Vietnamese ancestry — and this is no different in Washington state. Some 0.9% of the state’s population speak Vietnamese at home, and 0.9% have Vietnamese ancestry.

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48. West Virginia
> Most popular language: French
> Residents who speak French at home: 2,949
> French-speaking population: 0.2%

The most commonly spoken foreign language after Spanish in West Virginia is French. While only 2,949 state residents speak the language, roughly 14,450 have French ancestry — nearly five times the share who speak the language at home.

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49. Wisconsin
> Most popular language: Hmong
> Residents who speak Hmong at home: 45,499
> Hmong-speaking population: 0.8%

Hmong is the leading foreign language — behind Spanish — in two states, and Wisconsin is one of them. The other is neighboring Minnesota. The share of of those who speak the language is nearly in line with those who have Hmong ancestry at 0.8% and 0.7%, respectively.

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50. Wyoming
> Most popular language: German
> Residents who speak German at home: 3,442
> German-speaking population: 0.6%

Of the 585,501 people who inhabit Wyoming, only 3,442 currently speak German at home. However, 16.5% of state residents have documented German ancestry.