Spanish Speakers in the US

by Tyson on Thursday, August 15, 2013

Spanish Speakers in the US

America’s increasing linguistic diversity

According to statistics collected from the 2011 census survey, over 20% of people in America speak a language other than English at home (44% in California). About two thirds of this group speaks Spanish (37.6 million), making Spanish the most spoken language in the country after English, followed by Chinese in a distant third place position with just under 3 million speakers. States with the highest percent of Spanish speakers are Texas, California and New Mexico.

Speaking Spanish

The report shows that of all languages spoken in the US, Spanish has gained the most speakers with 26 million more than in 1980 –that’s a 232% increase. New York has over 3.5 million Spanish speakers and Los Angeles has 4.4 million. About 90% of Laredo, Texas’ population speaks Spanish.

Although English is still the most spoken language in the country and is used in most governmental functions, Spanish use is increasingly appearing in governmental contexts. Virginia Senator Tim Kaine made headlines this year when he gave an entire speech en español on the senate floor. President Obama has also made several television appearances speaking Spanish.

As the United States has no official national language, census statistics are used by the federal government to help determine which language services must be provided in different areas of the country to guarantee language rights protected by laws such as the US Voting Rights Act.

While the new data indicates that the use of Spanish is growing in the US, it’s important to keep in mind that Spanish is nothing new here. Spanish has been spoken in America for as long as or longer than English. California’s original 1849 state constitution stated that laws, regulations and provisions would be “published in English and Spanish”. People often forget that the entire southwestern region of the US including parts of Wyoming, Oklahoma and Kansas used to be a part of Mexico.

The results of the survey also disprove the misconception that increased Spanish use poses a threat to American English –in fact the opposite seems to be true –Spanish speakers reporting that they spoke English “less than very well” has slightly decreased since 2005 (from 5.7% to 5.6%).  

As Spanish experiences an upsurge in use, many European languages seem to be experiencing a decline in speakers. German and French speakers both decreased by 20% and Italian dropped 28%.

The US Census Bureau

The US census bureau’s website offers a new interactive map tool that pinpoints the languages that are spoken around America. Other innovative features here include a population clock that shows the US and world populations as they grow based on a series of monthly estimates (U.S. 316 million, world 7 billion), and the bureau’s first cell phone app that gives users real-time updated information on the US economy.

The site also gives insightful world population data, listing the United States as the country with the 3rd largest population just behind India and just ahead of Indonesia. The largest Spanish speaking country is Mexico ranking 11th on the list followed by Spain (28th) and Colombia (29th), although the US is estimated to soon surpass Mexico as the country with the largest Spanish speaking population in the world.


Keywords: us census,speaking spanish,spanish speakers,linguistic diversity,spanish speakers in the us

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