Don’t Americans only speak English? – Languages of the USA

Official Language?

Do Americans speak English? Sounds like a simple question. The short answer is …

Well, English is the main language of business, government operations, and daily life for most Americans. There are a few interesting, and perhaps confusing, points to be made about this, though. For example, the U.S. is one of the few countries without an official language. English just happens to be the main language in use because of the long history of British immigration in the beginning, and later, the consistent assimilation of other immigrants into the British turned American culture.

Despite this, thirty of the fifty states do have an official language (English), while the rest, just like at the federal level, don’t have any.

Washington, Rhode Island and Oregon:

  • “English Plus” policy, meaning there is a wider inclusion of languages available for public and governmental use, even though English is still the predominant language in those states.

French has a special status in Louisiana, as with Spanish in New Mexico, but they aren’t official state languages. Cherokee also has official status within the Cherokee lands inside Oklahoma. Other states with native (pre-colonial) languages in an official status are:

  • South Dakota (Sioux)
  • Hawaii (Hawaiian)
  • Alaska, which has over twenty official languages besides English that I don’t dare try to pronounce.

Many states, such as California, Arizona, and Texas, have policies that facilitate public procedures and information in other languages like Spanish, Tagalog, Korean, and so on. And don’t forget that the most linguistically diverse city in the world is located in the United States. New York may have about 800 languages spoken within the city with Queens as the most diverse borough.

Immigrant Languages

With that said, it is common to think of other languages as being very popular among immigrant communities. Few know that the nation home to the second-most Spanish speakers in the world is the U.S. of A., only behind Mexico. That’s 53 million Spanish speakers, or over 16% of all Americans.

Nearly half the population of America’s five biggest cities don’t speak English at home.

In some areas, like Hialeah, Florida, East Los Angeles, California, and Laredo, Texas, it’s over 90% of the population. In a big city like Los Angeles alone, it’s almost 60% of people who speak a language other than English. This trend isn’t just confined to places near the border. Other locations all around the country such as Connecticut and New Jersey (northeast), Illinois and Michigan (Midwest), and Colorado and Nevada (west) have cities or counties where over a third of the people speak a language other than English.

Languages that have over a million speakers:

  • Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Arabic, French and Korean

That doesn’t include second-language speakers. Haitian Creole and several languages from the Indian subcontinent are also on the rise. Even though English is the main language in the U.S. by far, there are tons of languages spoken all throughout the country. So, don’t be surprised if you meet some Americans that respond to your “How are you?” in Gujarati.

You can find more posts discussing American society in the About Americans section. Thanks, and until next time!

More reading:

the U.S. has no official language

Chart showing official languages of the states

The Languages of the U.S.

For Languages spoken in Alaska

Languages spoken in New York City

Spanish speakers in the U.S.

Linguistic diversity in U.S. cities

U.S. communities where English is not the majority

1 thought on “Don’t Americans only speak English? – Languages of the USA

  1. Pingback: Aren’t all the U.S. states and cities basically the same? | CultSurf

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