Number of Non-English-Speaking Households Rises In the US

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A newly-released report from the US Census Bureau shows that the number of non-English-speaking households in the US has increased significantly. According to the report, which uses data collected in 2007 as part of the American Community Survey, 55.4 million Americans speak a language other than English when they are at home. This represents a 140 percent increase since 1980.

The study broke the languages down into four different groups: Spanish; other Indo-European; Asian and Pacific Island languages and others. Spanish was by far the dominant non-English language group-62 percent of people living in America who don’t speak English speak Spanish instead. There are about 34 million people currently living in the US who speak Spanish at home, an increase of 211 percent since 1980. Interestingly, many of the Spanish speakers living in the US were born there- about 17 million, compared to 17.5 million Spanish speakers who were born in another country.

However, just because people speak a foreign language at home, that doesn’t mean that they can’t speak English. In fact, a majority (50 to 70 percent, depending on language group) of the people who speak a foreign language at home also said that they could speak English “very well.”

The people who answered that they cannot speak English “very well” are thought to be the most likely to require assistance, such as interpretation or translation. The report notes that these statistics are important because:

“Data on speakers of languages other than English and on their English speaking ability provide more than just an interesting portrait of a changing nation. Routinely, these data are used in a wide variety of
legislative, policy, and research applications. Legal, financial, and marketing decisions regarding language-based issues all rely on information that begins with data on non-English language use and English-speaking ability.”

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