America's Largest Cities: Almost Half Speak a Foreign Language at Home

Nationally, one in four public school children speak a language other than English at home

By CIS on September 19, 2018

Washington, D.C. (September 19, 2018) - A Center for Immigration Studies analysis of newly released Census Bureau data shows nearly half (48.2%) of the residents in America’s five largest cities now speak a language other than English at home. The total nationwide reached a record of nearly 67 million - up seven million since 2010 and nearly 35 million since 1990.

“In many cities more than half the residents now speak a foreign language at home, while in other cities or rural areas almost everyone speaks English,” observed Steven Camarota the Center’s Director of Research and co-author of the report. “A common language is part of the glue that holds the country together. But the level of immigration is so high that it may be causing the country to grow apart, weakening the idea that Americans are one people.”

View the full report at:

Among the findings:

  • In 2017 a record 66.6 million U.S. residents (native-born, legal immigrants and illegal immigrants) ages 5 and older spoke a language other than English at home. The number has more than doubled since 1990 and almost tripled since 1980.
  • As a share of the population, 21.8 percent of U.S. residents speak a foreign language at home — roughly double the 11 percent in 1980.
  • In America’s five largest cities 48 percent of residents now speak a language other than English at home. In New York City and Houston it is 49 percent, in Los Angeles it is 59 percent, in Chicago it is 36 percent, and in Phoenix it is 38 percent.
  • In 2017 there were 85 cities and Census Designated Places (CDP) in which a majority of residents spoke a foreign language at home. These include Hialeah FL (95 percent), Laredo TX (92 percent) and East Los Angeles (90 percent). Perhaps more surprisingly, it also includes places like Elizabeth NJ (76 percent), Skokie IL (56 percent), Germantown MD and Bridgeport CT (both 51 percent).
  • Nearly one in five U.S. residents now lives in a city or CDP in which one-third of the population speaks a foreign language at home. This includes Dale City VA (43 percent), Norwalk CT and New Rochelle NY (both 42 percent), and Aurora CO and Troy MI (both 35 percent).
  • In contrast to many of the nation’s cities, in rural areas outside of metropolitan areas just 8 percent speak a language other than English at home.
  • The data released thus far indicates that nationally nearly one in four public school students now speak a language other than English at home. In California 44 percent of school age (age 5-17) children speak a foreign language at home, and it’s roughly one-third in Texas, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, and Florida.
  • Of the school age (5-17) who speak a foreign language at home, 85 percent were born in the United States. Even among adults 18 and older, more than one-third of those who speak a foreign language at home are U.S.-born.
  • Of those who speak a foreign language at home, 25.9 million (39 percent) told the Census Bureau that they speak English less than very well. This figure is entirely based on the opinion of the respondent; the Census Bureaus does not measure language skills.
  • Of languages with more than 400,000 speakers in 2017, the largest percentage increases since 2010 were among speakers of Telugu (up 86 percent), Arabic (up 42 percent), Hindi (up 42 percent), Urdu (up 30 percent), Chinese (up 23 percent), Gujarati (up 22 percent), and Haitian (up 19 percent). Hindi, Telugu, and Gujarati are spoken in India and Urdu is the national language of Pakistan.
  • The largest numerical increases 2010 to 2017 were among speakers of Spanish (up 4 million), Chinese (up 653,000), Arabic (up 363,000), Hindi (up 254,000), Telugu (up 192,000), Tagalog (up 173,000), Haitian (up 140,000), Bengali (up 128,000), Urdu (up 118,000) and Vietnamese (up 117,000). Telugu and Tamil are spoken in India, Tagalog is the national language of the Philippines, and Bengali is spoken in India and is also the national language of Bangladesh.
  • Languages with more than a million speakers in 2017 are Spanish (41 million), Chinese (3.5 million), Tagalog (1.7 million), Vietnamese (1.5 million), Arabic (1.2 million), French (1.2 million), and Korean (1.1 million). States with the largest share of their populations speaking a foreign language in 2017 are California (44 percent), Texas (36 percent), New Mexico (33 percent), New Jersey (32 percent), New York and Nevada (31 percent), Florida (30 percent), Arizona (27 percent), Hawaii (26 percent), and Massachusetts (24 percent).
  • States with the large percentage increase in the number of foreign language speakers 2010 to 2017 are Wyoming (up 33 percent), North Dakota (up 30 percent), Utah (up 25 percent), Delaware (up 24 percent), Nevada (up 22 percent), Maryland, Nebraska, Kentucky, and Florida (up 21 percent), and Minnesota (up 19 percent).
  • Taking the longer view, states with the largest percentage increase in foreign language speakers 1980 to 2017 are Nevada (up 1080 percent), Georgia (up 945 percent), North Carolina (up 771 percent), Virginia (up 488 percent), Tennessee (up 441 percent), Arkansas (up 428 percent), Washington (up 410 percent), Florida (up 384 percent), South Carolina (up 379 percent), Utah (up 368 percent), and Oregon (up 356 percent).

Data Source. On September 13th, the Census Bureau released some of the data from the 2017 American Community Survey (ACS). The survey reflects the U.S. population as of July 1, 2017. The information in this report comes from AmericanFactfinder at