More people are speaking Chinese and Spanish in US

Updated: 2013-08-08 10:54

By Kelly Chung Dawson in New York (China Daily)

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More people are speaking Chinese and Spanish in US

Chinese and Spanish top the list of non-English languages spoken in the US, according to a report released by the US Census Bureau.

The report titled Language Use in the United States: 2011 presents detailed information about language usage in the US at home and outside the home, and was released with a new interactive mapping website created by the census bureau.

Tracking data at both the national and city level, the report provides a rough picture of how language is changing in the US as immigration continues to shape the population.

Using census information from the American Community Survey conducted from 2007-11, the "Language Mapper" tracks populations and their proficiency in 15 languages including Vietnamese, Japanese, French, French Creole, German, Russian, Korean, Polish, Persian, Italian, Portuguese, Tagalog and Arabic.

Chinese is spoken by 2.9 million people in their homes, according to the report. Of the 60.6 million people who spoke a language other than English at home in 2011, almost two-thirds (37.6 million) spoke Spanish.

The percentage speaking Spanish at home grew from 12 percent in 2005 to 12.9 percent in 2011. In contrast to the overall trend, however, the percent who spoke Spanish at home but spoke English "less than very well" declined from 5.7 percent to 5.6 percent over the period.

While 80 percent of French and German speakers identify as speaking English "very well," less than 50 percent of Asian languages like Chinese, Korean and Japanese report speaking English "very well".

Fifty-eight percent of US residents above the age of 5 who speak a non-English language identify as speaking English "very well", but those who identify as speaking English "less than very well" was at 8.7 percent in 2011, with that rate being the same in 2007. In 2000 that rate was 8.1 percent, signaling a rapid growth and then plateau among that population in recent years.

The percentage of Americans speaking a second language at home has grown at a steady rate, with that population now totaling 60.6 million people. In 2000, 17.9 percent reported speaking a non-English language at home; in 2007, that rate was 19.7 percent, and in 2011 the percentage had grown to 20.8. That also represents a huge jump from 1980, with the time period beginning then and ending in 2010 presenting an increase of 158 percent.

Vietnamese speakers increased by seven times, according to the census bureau. The only languages for which usage in the US decreased were German, Polish, Greek, Yiddish and Italian.

"This study provides evidence of the growing role of languages other than English in the national fabric," said Camille Ryan, the author of the report and a statistician in the Census Bureau's Education and Social Stratification Branch, in a statement. "Yet, at the same time that more people are speaking languages other than English at home, the percentage of people speaking English proficiently has remained steady."

The interactive online map shows which languages are spoken and where, as well as the level of English proficiency. The map also shows how many people live in each area and speak a language other than English, and the concentration of those who report they speak English less than "very well".

"This map makes it easy for anyone to plan language services in their community," said Nancy Potok, acting director of the Census Bureau in a statement. "Businesses can tailor communications to meet their customers' needs. Emergency responders can use it to be sure they communicate with people who need help. Schools and libraries can offer courses to improve English proficiency and offer materials written in other languages."

(China Daily USA 08/08/2013 page2)