The 6 Most Common Languages Spoken in the United States

Written by Eliana Riley
Published: February 20, 2024
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Studying languages concept, a globe and color notes with the word Hello in different languages.

Discover the six most common languages in the United States.

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How Many Languages Are Spoken in the United States?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over 350 languages are spoken in the United States. Hence, it’s no wonder people call the U.S. the “melting pot” of many cultures, ethnicities, and languages. As of 2019, around 68 million people in the U.S. spoke a language at home other than English.

Over one-fifth of the U.S. population speaks at least two languages, making them bilingual or multilingual. The most common languages spoken in the United States are foreign languages, originating beyond the border of the U.S. However, some languages, like Dakota and Navajo, are native to the United States.

Does the United States Have an Official Language?

While English is the most widely spoken language in the United States, it is not recognized as an official language. In fact, the United States has never adopted an official language. However, some states have adopted official languages. Alaska, for example, adopted English as its official language alongside more than 15 other official languages used by the state’s indigenous population. Likewise, Hawaii’s official languages are English and Hawaiian. Some states–such as Oregon, Vermont, and Michigan–have not claimed any official languages.

English

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English is the most common language spoken in the United States.

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As of 2010, nearly 80% of U.S. residents aged five and older spoke English alone at home. Furthermore, this percentage has steadily grown over the last decade. English is the most common language in the United States, with at least 241 million speakers. The language first arrived in the United States during Britain’s colonization of the Americas. Since then, English has expanded rapidly across the present-day U.S., becoming the primary language used by Americans for centuries.

Spanish

Do you speak Spanish written on board, international flag in box, language

Spanish originates in the European country of Spain.

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The second-most common language in the U.S. is Spanish, which boasts approximately 42 million speakers as of 2019. The states with the highest percentage of Spanish speakers include California, Texas, New Mexico, and Florida. Many Spanish speakers in the western U.S. come from Mexico, while speakers in the East derive from Puerto Rico and Cuba.

Like the abundance of English speakers in the U.S., the number of Spanish speakers is only growing. This growth is partially due to immigration and native-born speakers. When immigrant parents arrive in the U.S. and give birth to children, the children often must translate for their parents, becoming bilingual in English and Spanish.

Additionally, the Hispanic and Latino communities in the U.S. represent the largest ethnic minority group. These communities are found in every major city, and part of what keeps their cultural traditions alive is their language. These factors contribute to a high percentage of native-born Spanish speakers, one that supersedes the percentage of native-born speakers of other common languages, such as Chinese and Arabic. Over half of the Spanish speakers in the U.S. are native-born.

Chinese

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Mandarin and Cantonese belong to the family of languages that comprise Chinese.

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Chinese is the third-most common language in the United States, with nearly 3.5 million speakers. The language of Chinese refers to a family of languages, which include Mandarin and Cantonese. Mandarin and Cantonese are widely spoken across the United States. Some states that report Cantonese and Mandarin as their most spoken languages besides English and Spanish include Washington, Virginia, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and over a dozen more.

Just over 20% of Chinese speakers are native-born, and Chinese speakers are more likely to become naturalized citizens than not citizens at all. This statistic differs from the Hispanic community, whose speakers are more likely not to become citizens than to become naturalized citizens. Furthermore, Chinese speakers aged 20 to 39 make up the largest age group compared to other speakers of the language. Moreover, nearly half of Chinese speakers in the U.S. are under 40.

Tagalog

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Tagalog originates in the Philippines.

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Originating in the Philippines, Tagalog is the fourth-most common language spoken in the United States. One interesting fact about the language is that it claims many speakers in Nevada. Approximately 1.76 million U.S. residents speak Tagalog. While the language is more than 1,000 years old, it first arrived in the United States during the 16th century.

Despite its long history in the U.S., most speakers of this language are foreign-born. Only 13% of Tagalog speakers are native-born U.S. citizens, and most are naturalized citizens. This high percentage of naturalized citizenship is likely due to the age of speakers. Nearly 70% of Tagalog speakers are older than 40. 

Vietnamese

Beginner Vietnamese language learner writing Hello word Xin Chao for homework on a notebook macro shot

Vietnamese is prevalent in Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Mississippi.

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The fifth-most common language in the United States is Vietnamese, which boasts over 1.5 million speakers. Most speakers of this language are naturalized citizens, and over 20% of speakers are native-born. States that claim a large population of Vietnamese speakers include Mississippi, Georgia, Texas, and Oklahoma as of 2021.

Additionally, Vietnamese speakers record the lowest education attainment compared to other Asian-based languages, such as Chinese and Tagalog. This education statistic is likely the result of the age of this language’s speakers. Of the most common Asian-based languages in the U.S., Vietnamese records the highest number of speakers under 20. By comparison, Tagalog records the highest number of speakers over 40 and the highest level of education attainment compared to all other languages.

Arabic

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Arabic is the sixth-most common language spoken in the United States.

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Over 1.26 million Arabic speakers reside in the United States, making it the sixth-most common language in the nation. Around 60% of Arabic speakers are under 40, and approximately 30% of speakers are native-born. Arabic speakers record the lowest employment rate compared to the speakers of the other most common languages in the United States. This statistic is surprising, considering that over 60% of Arabic speakers have a college degree, making their education attainment higher than that of Vietnamese and Spanish speakers. Tennessee and Michigan claim many Arabic speakers compared to other states.

Other Common European Languages

Other languages typical to particular states in the U.S. originate in Europe. For example, Louisiana claims many French speakers due to the area’s history of French colonization. French is also present in Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire, likely due to these states’ proximity to Canada, which claims French as an official language alongside English.

German speakers record large populations in Kentucky, South Carolina, Iowa, and North Dakota. Many Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts residents speak Portuguese. Additionally, Illinois is home to Polish speakers. Pennsylvania Dutch–which includes Yiddish, Pennsylvania German, and other languages–is spoken in Ohio and Indiana.

Portugues.

Portuguese claims many speakers in the northeast.

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Other Common Native Languages

While the Native American population in the United States is small, speakers of native languages keep their culture alive, mainly in the West. Navajo is a native language spoken in Arizona and New Mexico and the most prevalent native language in the nation. Native Americans in South Dakota speak variations of Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota Sioux languages, some of the rarest in the U.S. but the most common languages in the state.

Natives speak Aleut languages in Alaska. One interesting fact about Alaska is that it claims the highest number of official languages in the nation, most of which are native languages. Hawaii records a large population of Hawaiian speakers, as Hawaiian is one of the state’s official languages alongside English. Finally, Montana and Wyoming are home to many speakers of other native languages, including those spoken by the Cheyenne, Crow, Shoshone, and Arapaho people groups.

Sioux tipis in the Yellowstone Valley of Montana

Some Native American languages include the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota dialects of the Sioux tribe.

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © opico/iStock via Getty Images


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About the Author

Eliana Riley is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on geography, travel, and landmarks. Eliana is a second-year student at Miami University majoring in English Education and Spanish. A resident of Tennessee and Ohio, Eliana enjoys traveling to national and state parks, hiking, kayaking, and camping.

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