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Dramatic Increase in Linguistic Diversity:

The Latest from the US Census

(Originally published June 2012)


The latest US Census data reveals a dramatic increase in the nation's linguistic diversity, showing significan expansion of the Hispanic and Asian-American populations along with double-digit growth overall of people who speak a language other than English at home. What do you need to know that may impact your marketing and employee communicatio planning as well as reveal any legal or compliance issues, such as language access regulations and initiatives? Here is some information to help you better understand the specifics of this data and how it may affect your organization.


The number of speakers of other languages in the US grew by 140 %. According to one US Census Bureau report, the number of people 5 and older who speak a language other than English at home has more than doubled in the last three decades at a pace four times greater than the nation’s population growth. The number of speakers of other languages has grown by 140 % compared with the nation’s overall population growth of 34 percent.


Spanish speakers accounted for the largest numeric increase. The growth in the number of Spanish speakers was higher than any other language group, with more than 23 million, representing a 211 % increase since 1980. When translating for this demographic, it is important to take into account a number of factors, including the range of native countries/cultures that make up the US Hispanic market. Then, be sure to develop a specific strategy to effectively translate for your organization’s Hispanic target audience in order to get the best results. For more information, see the Multilingual article “Spanish for the US: What flavor do we want?” by Syntes CEO, Beatriz Bonnet or contact us regarding your specific Spanish language needs.

The Vietnamese population represented the largest percentage increase. While the Spanish-speaking population had the largest growth in terms of numbers, the Vietnamese-speaking population in the US has increased by the largest percentage, 511 % in the same period.


These are the most commonly spoken languages other than English and Spanish. After English and Spanish, Chinese (2.5 million speakers) was the language most commonly spoken at home. Five other languages boast at least 1 million speakers. Those are: Tagalog (aka Filipino), French, Vietnamese, German, and Korean.


The growth of Asian-Americans poised to exceed US Hispanic population in future years. A new Pew Research Center report analyzing the 2010 US Census Data entitled “The Rise of Asian-Americans” has created a lot of buzz in recent weeks. Everyone from CNN to National Public Radio (NPR) has weighed in. According to this report, while US Hispanics are currently the fastest growing ethnic group, Asians are poised to outpace Hispanics as the largest demographic in the United States. 


Take into account the linguistic and cultural diversity of the Asian-American audience. Asian Americans are an extremely diverse group in the Unities States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Asian population includes people who indicated that they are “Asian Indian,” “Chinese, “Filipino,” Japanese, “Korean, “Vietnamese or “Other Asian,” or wrote in such entries as “Thai, “Cambodian, “Hmong, or “Pakistani.” Of this group, about 83 % of all Asians come from: China, the Philippines, India, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. The largest and fastest growing language groups among this population include: Chinese, Tagalog (aka Filipino), Vietnamese, and Korean. In addition, depending on the state and the market segment, other languages like Japanese, Hmong, and Cambodian would be important to include in your language mix. Also, take a closer look at the Pew Research report, especially Chapter 1: Portrait of Asian-Americans to find out more about general demographic information, such as a tendency for Asian-Americans to have comparatively high levels of education and income, as well as specifics for each national/cultural subgroup of this population.


Be aware of language distribution by state. In addition to analyzing census data nationwide, it is also important to identify which languages are most commonly spoken by state or region. The US Census Bureau report identifies states with the highest concentrations and percentages of some of the most commonly spoken non-English languages. These include: Spanish (in Texas, California, and New Mexico), Korean (in Hawaii, California and New Jersey), Chinese (in California, New York, Hawaii and Massachusetts), Slavic languages (in Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut), and German (North Dakota and South Dakota). The Many Languages, One America site is also a great resource to help you identify the most common languages spoken in the states or regions where your target audiences reside.


With the significant increase in linguistic diversity in the United States along with the growing prominence of such demographics as the US Hispanic and Asian-American audiences, it is the perfect time to take another look at your language mix and planning efforts to be sure you are providing the necessary language access and effectively communicating to your internal and external target audiences no matter what the language. For questions or more information on these or other issues, contact us today!

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