Speaking Across Cultures in the U.S.

FACT: 19% of the U.S. population speaks a primary language at home other than English.

  • The number of people who spoke a language other than English at home grew by 38 percent in the 1980s and by 47 percent in the 1990s. While the population aged 5 and over grew by one-fourth from 1980 to 2000, the number who spoke a language other than English at home more than doubled.

  • The proportion of the population aged 5 and over who spoke English less than “Very well” grew from 4.8 percent in 1980, to 6.1 percent in 1990, and to 8.1 percent in 2000. The number of Spanish speakers grew by about 60 percent and Spanish continued to be the non-English language most frequently spoken at home in the United States. The Chinese language, however, jumped from the fifth to the second most widely spoken non-English language, as the number of Chinese speakers rose from 1.2 to 2.0 million people.
  • People who spoke languages other than English at home were not distributed equally across or within regions in 2000. While the West had only slightly more than one-fifth of the U.S. population aged 5 and over, it was home to more than one-third (37 percent) of all non-English-language speakers, the highest proportion of any region.