Languages in the United States

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

The U.S. is more multilingual than you might think

by Borgna Brunner

More than 300,000 Americans regularly speak Urdu in the home.

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Spanish, of course, is the second most commonly spoken language in the United States—there are more than 37 million native Spanish speakers. After English and Spanish, however, few realize that Chinese is spoken regularly in more American homes more than any other language (2.8 million).

More than a million Americans also regularly speak Tagalog, Vietnamese, French, Korean, and German. And among the top languages spoken by Americans at home is one that has been spoken in this country long before English and Spanish arrived—Navajo.

Brush Up on Your Arabic

As one would expect, among foreign languages formally studied in the United States, Spanish, French, and German—in that order—are the three most popular.

Between 2006 and 2009, however, the Modern Language Association reported an increase in enrollments in the top 10 most-studied languages, with #8 Arabic enjoying the greatest increase of 46.3%. Chinese also continued to grow in popularity, with a 18.2% surge.

Between 2009 and 2013, Chinese enjoyed a modest 2% growth, while 8 other languages in the top ten suffered decreases in enrollment from -7.5% (Arabic) to -17.9% (Russian). The big winner was American Sign Language, with a whopping 19% increase.

It's All Chinese to Me

When we speak of Chinese, what kind of Chinese are we speaking of? Cantonese? Mandarin? Wu? Mandarin Chinese is not only the most commonly spoken Chinese, but the most commonly spoken language in the world. There are a staggering 1 billion Mandarin speakers throughout the world.

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