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

Aren’t Americans white? I mean, the vast majority? – Ethnicity in the USA

So, this is a question whose answer isn’t as simple as it might seem. On the one hand, take major cities:

Los Angeles

  • almost 1.9 million Latinos/Hispanics, outnumbering the non-Hispanic white people there

Chicago

  • has over 840 thousand blacks, just a pinch less compared to the white population

New York

  • has over 2 million Hispanics and black people each, although the Asians aren’t far behind

Atlanta

  • with almost 70 thousand more blacks than whites

New Orleans

  • with over 100 thousand more blacks than whites

Houston

  • over 400 thousand more Hispanics than whites.

*Sorry about the colors. Just wanted you to see how colorful our cities are. ;)*

Other major cities with a majority of minorities: Washington, D.C., Saint Louis (MO), San Jose (CA), San Antonio (TX), Philadelphia (PA), Milwaukee (WI), Miami (FL), Memphis (TN), Long Beach (CA), Honolulu (HI), Fresno (CA), El Paso (TX), Detroit (MI), Dallas (TX), Cleveland (OH), Baltimore (MD), Albuquerque (NM)

Just looking at statistics for individual cities, you can clearly see how diverse America’s urban areas are.

Despite this, I can tell you from experience that when leaving these cities you’ll encounter a lot more white than anything else, which attributes to 60% of Americans claiming to be white but not Hispanic, almost 200 million of the 330 million Americans. Now the next largest demographic would be Hispanics, but that’s a confusing class as well. “Hispanics” can be white or black, though generally mixed or mestizo (mixed white and indigenous American), and the only thing that qualifies them is their being from some country in the huge expanse of Latin America. Latin America doesn’t even have a solid definition, so that tells you how reliable that qualifier is.

Another thing that complicates this answer is the growing population of non-white or mixed-race people. Because there are so many non-white people in big cities, their cultures often are the ones that have the biggest hits on radio, TV, and in the mainstream. That, mixed with a general resentment among the minorities about the country’s racist past, generate a culture that is heavily influenced by non-white American ideals and priorities, though we’ve got a long way to go before those take complete hold.

It would be nice if Americans could live as a true melting pot where everyone mixed and melded together. As for your question, just don’t be surprised on your next trip to Mardi Gras.

Resources:

U.S. cities by racial majorities: https://www.bizjournals.com/buffalo/blog/morning_roundup/2015/09/minority-groups-account-for-55-of-buffalo-s.html

Demographics of Albuquerque and other U.S. cities: https://worldpopulationreview.com/us-cities/albuquerque-nm-population

Demographics of the Unites States: https://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/united-states-population

Who’s Hispanic in the U.S.: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/09/15/who-is-hispanic/

Growing diversity in the U.S.: https://www.brookings.edu/research/new-census-data-shows-the-nation-is-diversifying-even-faster-than-predicted/

Are Americans religious? Aren’t the religious ones all Protestants? – Religion in the USA

Among some Brazilian communities, I have heard doubts about whether Americans are very religious or not. I get the sense that this comes from the perception that developed countries (those “successful” countries) don’t put very much importance on religion, while instead, focusing on the force of their nation over others. Sometimes that worship seems to turn towards consumerism. It may be true that as a society Americans tend to focus a lot on success, having money, or otherwise capitalist notions.

However, Americans in general tend to be religious in some way. Out of over 320 million people, over 200 million claim to be Christian. To touch on the second question, yes, almost half the country follows some kind of Protestant denomination. But out of those;

  • 162 million Protestants
  • 76 million are Catholic
  • 23 million religious non-Christians

Now, there is a hefty Unaffiliated group, about 20% of the country, to give an idea. In that range, you can see anything from agnostic to atheist to people who “don’t know” or just don’t have a preference. Some of these simply didn’t answer this part of the census.

I use the numbers to give you an idea of the scope of how many individuals make up this huge country. Even among religious people, you have those that don’t regularly practice or don’t claim their religion out of personal purposes. Some people, like me, are spiritual and have a more general, naturalist vision of religion that isn’t tied to any specific church. In the end, the U.S. is still one of the most religious countries on Earth, albeit Protestant in the majority. It actually has the most people who consider religion important among developed nations, besides those in Southern Europe (think Portugal, Italy, etc.). It’s also super diverse in the religions practiced, from Sikhism, Buddhism, Judaism, and all the kinds of Islam and Christianity imaginable.

But 76 million Catholics still counts as a lot of people, right?

Resources:

Demographics of the United States: https://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/united-states-population

The religious build of the U.S.: https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/

Importance of religion by country: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Importance_of_religion_by_country