The U.S. Census Bureau conducted its most in-depth study on language and released its result Tuesday, revealing that there are 350 languages spoken in homes across the United States today. The survey also indicated that immigrants from Asia encounter more difficulty learning English compared to Hispanics. Speakers of Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese at home encounter the most difficulty with the English language. The 350 languages include about 150 Native American languages. The Bureau did not release the totals for the latter because some of them have very few speakers and they feared that these people could be identified.
Data gathering and results
The data the Bureau analyzed came from information they gathered between 2009 and 2013. Out of the average population from these periods, the Bureau found that 60.3 million people, which translate to about one in five people over 5 years of age, speak a foreign language aside from English at home. Spanish tops the list with 37.5 million speakers at home, while 2.9 million Asian-Americans speak Chinese in their homes. The other languages with more than one million speakers at home include Tagalog (Filipino), Vietnamese, Korean, German and French. Arabic is already close to reaching the one million mark as well. However the scope of languages was very evident, as there were 237,000 people who speak Armenian, while about 212,000 residents speak Hebrew. Navajo was spoken by around 166,000 and Finnish has close to 25,000 speakers.
Still, the majority of the U.S. residents use English as their main language at home but the survey did reveal the language diversity in the country, according to Erik Vickstrom, a statistician from the Bureau. He said that knowing the number of speakers and the specific languages is of great value to researchers, planners and policymakers.
With its cultural diversity, it is not surprising that the metropolitan area of New York will top the list, with about 192 languages other than English used at home. English is a minority language in the metro area of Miami, as 51 percent of the population speak a foreign language, while 54 percent of the population of Los Angeles do not speak English in their homes. About one in four homes or 26 percent of the total households in Washington speak a foreign language, according to the survey. Other top-ranked cities include San Francisco (40%) and Houston (37%).
Issue for policymakers
For policymakers, the bigger issue is the lack of proficiency in the English language of some immigrant families. This affects how businesses and government institutions could communicate with them.
It is not only the policymakers who are burdened by these statistics. Schools are also struggling on how to reach out to students who have difficulty in learning English. Local school districts say that they require thousands of dollars in extra funding to enable them to effectively educate English language learners.