Record Number of American Homes Not Speaking English

Nearly 65 million residents in the U.S. now speak foreign language at home

A record 64.7 million people living in the United States last year spoke a language other than English at home, an increase fueled both by immigration and a growing number of native-born Americans who speak other languages.

The numbers come in a report released Tuesday by the Center for Immigration Studies, drawing on new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The 64.7 million figure is up 8.7 percent from five years earlier and has more than doubled since 1990.

“The level of immigration is so high and many people who were speaking non-English languages at home as children are still speaking [them] even in adulthood.”

The share of U.S. residents speaking languages other than English at home, just 11 percent in 1980, is now 21.5 percent. Some 44 percent of them, nearly 28.5 million people, were born in the United States. And they are not all children — 64.3 percent of American-born adults still speak the language of their parents at home.

“The level of immigration is so high and many people who were speaking non-English languages at home as children are still speaking [them] even in adulthood,” said Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies.

Camarota said the number of American-born people who are speaking other languages is rising even as some children of immigrants give up the languages of their parents.

“It’s being overwhelmed by the enormous growth in people who do speak another language,” he said.

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The significance of not speaking English at home is not that great if people are fluent in America’s dominant language when they are outside the home. But nearly 40 percent of the people who spoke a foreign language at home in 2015 reported to the Census Bureau that they speak English “less than very well.” That is down by about 4 percent since 1980.

[lz_table title=”Speaks Foreign Language at Home” source=”Center for Immigration Studies”]Year,Number,Share
|Speaks English “less than very well”

Camarota noted the Census Bureau makes no attempt to verify the self-assessment. He said it is possible immigrants do not speak English any better than they did in 1980 but believe they do because of the differences in how they are measuring themselves. In 1980, he said, more immigrants lived and worked with people who spoke English fluently. With the massive increase in the foreign-born population, he added, it is more likely that an immigrant has less exposure to English — and thus thinks his own skills are better than they are.

“They’re grading on a curve,” he said.

The non-English language most likely to be spoken at home unsurprisingly remains Spanish; more than 40 million people in America spoke the language in 2015. But the fastest-growing languages in the United States since 2010 are Arabic (up 34 percent), Hindi (up 33 percent), Urdu (up 24 percent), and Chinese (up 19 percent) — “which shows how much immigration there’s been from the Middle East and Pakistan and India,” Camarota said.

Seven different languages now are spoken by more than 1 million U.S. residents.

He said the recent growth in Arabic, Hindi, and Urdu speakers reflects increases in refugees, guest workers, and foreign students from the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.

The large mix of languages complicates efforts to provide services in facilities like hospitals and courts, Camarota said.

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“But also [there is an] impact on employers,” Camarota said.

Perhaps no institution grapples with language barriers more than schools. In 2015, 22.2 percent of school-age children in the United States spoke a foreign language at home. In California, it is approaching half of all residents ages five to 17 — 44.7 percent. The rate of school-age children speaking a foreign language at home is one in five or higher in 16 states.

Although the 2015 data for public school students that has not been released, the Center for Immigration Studies estimates it is nearly one in four.