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Beyond English: Discovering the Most Widely Spoken Languages in the Top 5 U.S. Cities

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Last updated on May 17th, 2023 at 06:03 pm

Does your organization need translation services? The answer is undoubtedly, and your needs depend on your product and services, who is your target audience, and their needs.

You don’t need to have a global reach to benefit from translation services. Even if you only operate in one country, like the United States, your audience likely speaks multiple languages. English may be the official language of the U.S., but it’s far from the only one spoken, and you can still encounter a language barrier on domestic shores. Translation services can help you expand your consumer base and your brand reach by speaking to people in their native languages.

Exploring Linguistic Diversity in the United States

The U.S. is a linguistically diverse nation. Across the largest cities, you’ll hear various languages spoken. Some you may expect to hear, and the popularity of others may be a surprise.

The 2020 census revealed 21% of people in the U.S. speak a language other than English (LOTE) at home. To exemplify the country’s linguistic diversity, we’ve rounded up the most commonly spoken languages (other than English) in the five largest cities in the United States, according to the census.

The largest cities in the country are home to people with an array of cultures and ethnic backgrounds. This diversity is seen in the restaurants, shops, and the aromas wafting out of home kitchens. In order, these cities are:

  • New York
  • Los Angeles
  • Chicago
  • Houston
  • Phoenix

The Most Common Languages in America’s Biggest Cities

New York City

Home to over 8 million residents in the city limits, hearing languages other than English on the streets of New York is widespread. In fact, 47% of NYC residents speak a language other than English at home. If you’re doing business in NYC or seeking to target the city’s multitude of residents, a marketing plan is only complete if you are considering Spanish translation services.
The most common LOTEs in NYC are:

  • Spanish: 2.7 million speakers
  • Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese): 585,000 speakers
  • Russian: 223,00 speakers

Beyond the top three languages, the data gets convoluted. Some reports place Italian high on the list, while others have Yiddish, Hatian, and French Creole among the most commonly spoken languages. Any way you cut the pie, it’s clear- NYC is home to a diverse population of people who speak many languages. The Big Apple is also home to a strong hub of the deaf community, with over 200,000 ASL users. Even if translation services don’t rank high on your list, other language services like ASL should.

Government agencies in New York City and around New York State use translation services to speak the language of their population to communicate important information.

Β Los Angeles

With nearly 4 million people, Los Angeles is a bustling, diverse city. 58% of residents speak a language other than English at home. Even though L.A. couldn’t be more different than NYC, the two still have overlapping characteristics, like a high population of Spanish speakers. You’re missing out on your potential audience if you’re targeting audiences without engaging Spanish translation services in your marketing mix.

  • The top LOTEs spoken in L.A. include:
  • Spanish: 1.4 million speakers
  • Armenian: 88,000 speakers
  • Tagalog (including Filipino): 84,880 speakers
  • Korean: 82,700 speakers
  • Chinese (including Mandarin and Cantonese): 56,000 speakers

Chicago

35% of Chicago’s 2.7 million residents speak another language at home. Spanish still tops the list of LOTE in the Windy City, but the percentage of Polish speakers may surprise you. If you’re not using professional Spanish translation services to reach Chicago residents, your message may be hitting only some of your audience.

Top LOTEs spoken in Chicago:

  • Spanish: 1.5 million speakers
  • Chinese (including Mandarin and Cantonese): 92,500 speakers
  • Polish: 169,800 speakers
  • Tagalog (including Filipino): 74,200 speakers
  • Arabic: 65,500 speakers

Houston

Of Houston’s 2.3 million residents, 48% speak another language at home. Given the city’s proximity to the Mexican border, it’s no surprise that over a million people speak Spanish. But did you know Houston also has a high population of Vietnamese and Arabic speakers?

Most common LOTEs in Houston:

  • Spanish: 1.3 million speakers
  • Vietnamese: 143,000 people
  • Chinese (including Mandarin and Cantonese): 40,000 speakers
  • Arabic: 23,300 speakers
  • Vietnamese: 17,500 speakers

Phoenix

36% of Phoenix’s 1.6 million residents speak a language other than English at home, and here again, Spanish is king. But the city also has a higher percentage of Tagalog and Filipino speakers.

  • Spanish: 909,000 speakers
  • Chinese (including Mandarin and Cantonese): 27,600 speakers
  • Tagalog (including Filipino): 21,000 speakers
  • Arabic: 19,000 people
  • Vietnamese: 17,800 people

The Need for Spanish Translation Services in the U.S.

Spanish is the most common language other than English spoken in the U.S. One estimate from 2019 puts the number of Spanish speakers in the U.S. at a staggering 41 million and growing. This prediction means that companies that aren’t using a translation company or professional Spanish translators are missing out in every state, not just the largest cities.

The need for professional translation services in the U.S. is only growing. The number of Spanish speakers in the U.S. grew by 4 million between 2007 and 2017. But it’s far from the only LOTE spoken widely. Every company needs to know its audience to request the language they need for translation services.

The Cultural Mosaic of the U.S.

The U.S. has a reputation for being the land of opportunity. Hence, as people moved here to seek a new life for themselves and their families, they brought their cultures, traditions, and languages to create a unique cultural mosaic.

These stats reflect the current state of language in the U.S., but the country’s linguistic landscape changes over time as new groups emigrate. For instance, from 2000 to 2017, there was an 86% increase in speakers of Telugu, a language from the southern states of India. There was also a 42% increase in people speaking Arabic and Hindu, a 30% increase in people speaking Urdu, and a 10% increase in Haitian Creole.

These changes underscore the importance of knowing your audience. Demographic information tells you a lot, so dig into the data you have and start to put the pieces together. If you know your audience is mainly women in their 30s to 50s who reside in large cities, how many of those women speak a language other than English as their primary language? How would working with professional Spanish translators from a translation company expand your reach?

Investing in translation services is a simple and cost-effective way to increase your business reach and grow your potential audience base. It doesn’t involve re-inventing the wheel – just taking your existing copy and content and utilizing the skills of a professional translator with subject matter expertise in your industry to create a grammatically and culturally appropriate translation. There is no translation project too small to impact your audience! It’s reported that over 75% of consumers will ignore advertising or marketing material that are not in their native language.

Where Could Your Business Use Professional Translators?

There are many areas in your business where you have content or copy that is quick and affordable to translate. Doing so increases your business reach, but it also shows your customers compassion, empathy, and consideration, essential factors for consumers when deciding to support a new business or buy from you.

Translation services can also help in your business process. If you or your team is based in an area with a higher percentage of LOTE speakers, having internal documents and communications ready in the major language of your employees is good for employee understanding, retention, and satisfaction. It can also reduce confusion. Translation projects can include:

  • Website localization or translation
  • Social media
  • Billboards
  • Brochures and mailers
  • Print ads
  • H.R. and internal documents
  • Mobile apps
  • Legal documents
  • Birth certificates
  • Certified translations for government and official use

Could Your Business Use Language Services?

Other language services include interpretation. Interpreting services differ from translation because they deal with spoken rather than written words. If many of your consumers or employees speak another language, having interpretation services available is a simple way to increase understanding and retention.

For internal meetings, this can be as simple as having Zoom simultaneous interpretation services add language options to live meetings. You can also have remote interpreters via phone calls on 24/7 language support and on-site interpreters for larger events or for American Sign Language interpretation.

The term “languages other than English” doesn’t necessarily bring ASL( American Sign Language) to mind, but an estimated half a million people use ASL as their primary mode of communication. Having ASL interpretation is an easy way to make your business more accessible and inclusive.

Ready to take the first step in expanding your audience reach by implementing translation services in your content creation? if you are, you need an experienced and affordable language service provider to make the translation process run smoothly. At J.R. Language, we always go the extra mile to achieve your goals and exceed your expectations. Contact us for a quote todayβ€”we’d love to learn about your translation services needs and help you succeed in multilingual communications.

Jackie Ruffolo
Jackie Ruffolo
Jackie was born in Venezuela and has a BS in computer engineering. As President of JR Language, she spends time researching new technology and productivity tools for the Company. She holds a certificate of Localization and Project Management- Localization. Through her many years of experience working in multilingual corporate environments, she understands firsthand the value of bridging language barriers in creating smooth communication that allows for productive and happy work environments. She is fluent in Spanish and English, and is a frequent contributor to both our English and Spanish blogs. 20 Years of experience in marketing Jackie loves nature and to be outdoors.