What do you call someone who only speaks one language? American!
I don’t remember where I heard that joke, but it illustrates the infamous reputation Americans have throughout the world as monolingual English speakers.
And while there is a grain of truth to that, and perhaps a rather large one, it is somewhat misinformed.
A nation of immigrants, the United States is also home to more than 20 other languages, besides English.
English is the de facto national language of the United States, with 80% of the population claiming it as a mother tongue, and some 95% claiming to speak it “well” or “very well.”
However, the United States has no official language at the federal level.
Spanish is the second most common language spoken in the United States, by more than 30% of the population. The United States is home to the world’s fifth largest Spanish-speaking population, outnumbered only by Mexico, Spain, Colombia, and Argentina.
Chinese languages (Cantonese & Mandarin) have more than 2.6 million speakers in the United States.
Tagalog and Vietnamese have over one million speakers each in the United States, almost entirely within recent immigrant populations.
Native American languages are spoken in smaller pockets of the country, but these populations are decreasing, and the languages are almost never widely used outside of reservations.
Formerly considered critically endangered, Hawaiian is showing signs of language renaissance. The recent trend is based on new Hawaiian language immersion programs of the Hawaii State Department of Education and the University of Hawaii, as well as efforts by the Hawaii State Legislature and county governments to preserve Hawaiian place names. In 1993, about 8,000 could speak and understand it; today estimates range up to 27,000.
Additionally, modern estimates indicate that American Sign Language is signed by as many as 500,000 Americans.
According to the American Community Survey 2009, endorsed by the United States Census Bureau, the main languages by number of speakers older than five are:
- English – 229 million
- Spanish – 35 million
- Chinese languages – 2.6 million + (mostly Cantonese speakers, with a growing group of Mandarin speakers)
- Tagalog – 1.5 million + (Most Filipinos may also know other Philippine languages, e.g. Ilokano, Pangasinan, Bikol languages, and Visayan languages)
- French – 1.3 million
- Vietnamese – 1.3 million
- German – 1.1 million (High German) + German dialects like Hutterite German, Texas German, Pennsylvania German, Plautdietsch
- Korean – 1.0 million
- Russian – 881,000
- Arabic – 845,000
- Italian – 754,000
- Portuguese – 731,000
- Polish – 594,000
- French Creole – 659,000
- Hindi – 561,000
- Japanese – 445,000
- Persian – 397,000
- Urdu – 356,000
- Gujarati – 341,000
- Greek – 326,000
- Serbo-Croatian – 269,000
- Armenian – 243,000
- Hebrew – 222,000
- Cambodian – 202,000
The original content of this post can be found on Wikipedia.