Special Report

Most Commonly Spoken Foreign Language in Every State

The United States was founded on immigration and, over time, became a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities. 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. 

24/7 Tempo reviewed data from the American Community Survey 2014-2018 5-year estimates to find which foreign language is most often spoken at home in each state. 

Spanish is by far the most foreign language in the country, with 40.2 million people across the nation speaking it at home. That’s 13.3% of the country’s population. Spanish is the most commonly spoken foreign language in all but two states — Maine (French) and Hawaii (Ilocano). We excluded Spanish from our analysis in order to identify more nuanced regional differences. Also from the ACS, we considered data on the ancestry of state residents.

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 United States speak some version of Chinese at home — Mandarin and Cantonese are the most popular. 

Vietnamese follows behind with just over 1.5 million people in the U.S. speaking it. Chinese is the most commonly spoken foreign language, aside from Spanish, in six states, and Vietnamese in eight. 

Many people can identify their ancestry, but far fewer speak the language of their ancestors’ origin. For example, many U.S. residents have German roots, but only a tiny fraction currently speak the language at home. This would make sense as immigrants assimilate and newer generations speak English rather than their parents’ mother tongue. 

About 14% of U.S. residents were born outside of the country, and 94% identify with an ancestry other than American. You can find out about the most unusual ancestry in every state here.