How many people don’t speak English in the US?
Published on November 24, 2022 / Updated on January 3, 2024
The US has always been linguistically diverse, and its multiculturalism is one of its great strengths. English is spoken by the vast majority of the population, but how many people in the country don’t speak English? Your perception of this depends on where you are. Walk around Little Havana in Miami and you may hear more Spanish than English. Stroll through a small town in West Virginia, and you’ll probably be surrounded by English. So, exactly how many people don’t speak English in the US? And what do they speak instead?
The US, like the UK, does not have an official language – at least at the federal level. English is the de facto national language and is spoken at home by a great majority of the population. That said, many states have declared English as their official language, sometimes along with other languages too. Alaska, for example, has 21 official languages: English, plus 20 Native American languages.
According to the latest census data, over 91% of people in the US speak English very well. 8.2% of people do not speak English “very well”, though this statistic doesn’t mean that they are completely non-English speakers. It implies that just over 8% of the population is much more comfortable speaking another language, though their level of English probably varies widely. The state of West Virginia has one of the highest percentages of people who speak only English at home at 97.7%.
It’s very difficult to know how many people in the US don’t speak English at all. Almost everyone in America speaks at least some English, even if it’s just a few words. In total, almost 66 million people speak a language that is not English at home in the US; that’s around 21.6% of the population. Many of these people are bilingual in English and another language.
13.2% of people in the US speak Spanish at home, which is just over 40 million people, making Spanish the second-most spoken language in the country. The second-most common non-English language spoken at home in America is Chinese, which includes Mandarin and Cantonese, with over three million speakers. In terms of states, in Nevada, over 30% of the population doesn’t speak English at home – the highest proportion in any US state. Florida comes second with over 28% of people speaking a language other than English at home.
Yes, despite a history of oppression, 112 Native American languages are still spoken in the US. The most spoken Native American languages are Navajo and Yupik and Dakota. Navajo is mostly spoken in Arizona and New Mexico, Yupik in Alaska, and Dakota, unsurprisingly, in the Dakotas. In many communities, the people are bilingual in English and a Native American language, and many young people don’t have a great grasp of the indigenous language. It’s estimated that around one-third of Native American languages have become extinct since European colonizers arrived in the area north of Mexico.
No, not everyone in the US speaks English. A little over 8% of the population speaks English less than very well. However, as we said, the level of English-language within this 8% will vary significantly. Nonetheless, with over 91% of the population saying they speak English “very well”, it’s highly likely that if you visit the US, almost everyone you meet will speak English. That means it’s definitely worth brushing up on your English if you’re heading over there. If you’re looking for another language to use widely in the US, you can’t go wrong with Spanish.