top of page
  • Writer's pictureContinental Interpreting

Top Foreign Languages in the US 2018

Updated: Apr 9, 2021

It’s all Greek to me no longer applies! When it comes to languages in the United States that is. Like our language services at Continental, The U.S. boasts a diverse group of spoken foreign languages from coast to coast. Just how diverse you might ask? Well our team had the same question so we decided to crunch some numbers, put our researcher caps on and curate a list of the most spoken non-English languages in our union.

These days it seem like almost everyone knows a word or two in most languages so we setup the following criteria to govern our list: 1. Speaker must identify language as native 2. Language qualifies as the primary language spoken at home 3. Languages were valuated excluding English. However if you were curios English still checked in at a resounding #1 with an aggregate of 231 million speakers nationwide.

What Are The Top 10 Foreign Languages Spoken in The U.S?

(Sources: US. Census Bureau 2016, Statistical Atlas 2018, American Community Survey)

1. Spanish: If you guessed Español would be #1 congratulations, you won. With an aggregate total of over 38 million native speakers in the United States Spanish was easily the top language spoken excluding English. When broken down by State the only places where Spanish was not the top foreign language spoken were: Alaska (Native Languages), Hawaii (Samoan, Hawaiian, and Ilocano), Maine (French) and Vermont (French). That leaves 46 States where Spanish was the most common foreign language. Spanish is so common we thought it would actually be a better exercise to look at the most common languages excluding both Spanish AND English. Here is a map view courtesy of of what that looks like:

At Continental Interpreting we provide Spanish interpreters for a wide range of services from medical, legal and business related interpreting and translation.

2. Chinese: (including Cantonese, Mandarin and other dialects) – 2.9 million native speakers. Chinese is frequently the second or third most popular foreign language in many states across the US. Including California, New York, Alabama, Delaware, Colorado, and Massachusetts. We certainly see a good share of Chinese Interpreting and Translation jobs come across our desk here at CIS and are always looking for skilled Chinese language interpreters to help bridge the language gap.

3. French and French Creole: Checks in at third on our list with an estimated total of just over 2 million native U.S. speakers. French is spoken more commonly in multiple states than some may think, ranking behind Spanish and German as the third most popular language in the most states(12). Another interesting fact is that when you combine French and French Creole speakers Florida (not Louisiana) has the highest amount of French Speakers with over 361,000. Louisiana had the second highest concentration of French speakers with just over 120,000 French is also spoken prominently in: New York (84,215) Maryland (48,210), Maine, (39,695), North Carolina (26,969), and New Hampshire (22,260), among other states. With France winning the 2018 World Cup don’t be surprised if you hear people shouting Allez Les Bleus!( the National Team rally phrase) In a city near you.

4. Tagalog: The native language of the Philippines ranked as the 4th most spoken non English language with about 1.6 million native speakers in the U.S. Leading the way as far as states with the most Tagalog speakers were California (793,205) New Jersey (80,205). Nevada (75, 720), and Hawaii, with 60,210 folks who call Tagalog their native tongue. If you’re unfamiliar with Tagalog or Filipino culture in general one of the easiest ways to start your immersion is with the food! Here are some of the best Filipino dishes to try as curated by CNN.

5. Vietnamese: Was the 4th ranked foreign language spoken in the U.S. with roughly 1.4 native speakers. According to over 300,000 native Vietnamese speakers arrived in the Unites States between 2000 and 2014 in order to reunite with family members who were seeking asylum after the Vietnam War. The top three states with the most native Vietnamese speakers were ranked as follows 1st: California (522,058), 2nd: Texas (205, 960) and 3rd: Washington, 60,201.

6. Korean: Coming in as the 6th most popular foreign language on our list was Korean with just over 1.1 million native speakers. Korean is spoken broadly in California with over 373,000 native speakers in the Golden State. Other states with large native speaking Korean populations were New York (77,050), Virginia (54,623), and Georgia with 45,221 native speakers respectively. Korean contributions to the U.S are numerous ranging from culture, food, auto/ tech and at the moment K-pop sensations BTS tearing up the charts.

7. German: Ranking as the 7th most popular non-English language spoken in the U.S. was German with over 1,063,773 native speakers. Excluding Spanish German is the most popular foreign language spoken most frequently in 16 states primarily across the Midwest. According to the National Museum of American History, more than five million Germans came to the United States in the 1800s, the largest foreign language group at the time. With the majority moving to the Midwestern “German triangle,” between Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin. While California leads the way with just over 111,000 German speakers that total only accounts for about .03% of spoken languages in CA. Meanwhile the Midwest saw higher percentages with North Dakota (1.33%), South Dakota (1%), Montana (.76%), Wisconsin (.68%) and Indiana (.58%)leading the way. Needless to say German language and Culture is thriving in the U.S.

8. Arabic: Arabic is currently the 8th most popular foreign language in the U.S. with an estimated 924,374 native speakers in the states. California and Michigan lead the way with (154,000) and (112,200) speakers respectively. Meanwhile Michigan also leads the way as far as percentage of speakers with just over 1.20% native Arabic speakers. Ranking third as far as Arabic speakers was New York with (86,200). According to a Guide published by Inlingua, Arabic is the 6th best language to study in 2018, as a result of being the 4th most spoken language in the world and because of the natural career fit for anyone looking to get into politics, intelligence, or diplomacy.

9. Russian: With just over 879,434 native speakers living in the U.S Russian ranks as the 9th most commonly spoken foreign language in America. The highest concentration of Russian speakers are located in New York with 226,000 Russian speakers which was also the highest percentage of speakers nationally at 1.24%. Up next as far as volume of Russian speakers were California (152,100), Washington (56,500), New Jersey (44,800), and Illinois (41,400). Soccer fans from around the world converged on Russia this year for the 2018 World Cup and got to experience firsthand the beauty of Russian architecture.

10. Italian: Rounding out the top ten foreign languages spoken in the United States was Italian with an estimates 708,966 native speakers. Leading the way for Italian speakers by state was New York with 192,000 native Italian speakers. By percentage Connecticut has the largest volume of Italian native tongues (36,600) out pacing New York 1.08% to 1.05%. Other states where Italian is commonly spoken include New Jersey (78,900), Florida (49,200), Pennsylvania (44,700), Illinois (40, 2500) and Massachusetts (38,900). If you are like us and have a serious soft spot in your heart for Italian food check out this guide of the best Italian Restaurants to visit in the U.S.

344 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Lessons from the 2018 ATA Conference

Our project management team joined over 1,500 translation industry professionals at the 59th annual American Translators Association Conference in New Orleans. The conference included over 170 self-de


bottom of page