Translation and Language Industry Observations

Although English is the most spoken language in the United States, the growth rate and number of bilingual people have steadily risen. In 1980, just over 10 percent of the population was bilingual, according to the US Census Report. That same report now shows that just over 20 percent of the population speaks more than one language.

Targeting your Localization Efforts in the USA

For business owners and corporate marketing managers, knowing which languages are spoken by your clients will help prepare suitable marketing collateral, advertisements, publications and such. It will also provide guidelines for possible website translation and software localization efforts in your business. This post provides details on the foreign languages which are most spoken in the United States.

It is clear that Spanish is by far the most commonly spoken foreign language used in the USA. It is no wonder that so many US companies target this huge population in their marketing and sales efforts. Indeed, the demand for Spanish translation services in the USA is growing rapidly.

Career Implications

Learning a new language has many benefits. Not only does it allow the opportunity to speak with a wider range of people, but it can also help you score a new job. People who speak a new language are thought by scientists to have greater critical thinking skills, thanks to the fact they must think in 2 (or more) different languages. Learning a new language can also make travel easier.

If you wish to learn a new language that will benefit your career, however, it helps to know which are the most commonly spoken foreign languages in the US. These are the languages that potential employers will be looking for, because they will be of the most use.

The Top 10

So, which foreign languages are the most common? Here are the top 10 languages in American translation services.

10. Haitian Creole

Haitian Creole comes in at number 10, with nearly 1 million native or fluent speakers in the United States. Florida has the largest Haitian population in the U.S., with significant communities in the South Florida area, including the notable “Little Haiti” in Miami. New York City and Boston also host a substantial Haitian community, with Orlando and Atlanta also having a growing Haitian community.

9. German

German is the 9th most commonly spoken language in the US, with approximately 1 million speakers. It is also the second most commonly spoken language in North Dakota, and ranks as the third highest language spoken at home in several other states, after Spanish and English. These states include: Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and South Carolina.

8. Russian

Russian comes in 8th place, with about 1.05 million speakers in the United States. It is the third most commonly spoken language in Oregon. The increase in the number of Russian speakers in the U.S. over the last few decades is consistent with migration trends following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Most Russian speakers in the U.S. today are Russian Jews. The New York metropolitan area, particularly Brooklyn, has the largest number of Russian speakers in the U.S., and other states like California, New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Washington, Florida, and Maryland also have significant Russian-speaking populations.

Outside the country, Russian is the official language of Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. In addition to this, it is consider an “unofficial second language” in several other countries – much like the way Spanish is so widely spoken in the US. These countries were once part of the Soviet Union, and include the Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Moldova, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

7. Korean

There are approximately 1.1 million Korean speakers in the United States. Korean Americans are predominantly found in the Greater Los Angeles and New York City metropolitan areas, with significant populations also in the Washington-Baltimore and Dallas-Fort Worth regions. Bergen County, New Jersey, stands out for having the highest percentage of Korean Americans, particularly in Palisades Park. Major cities like Los Angeles, Honolulu, San Jose, and New York City, along with medium-sized cities such as Fullerton and Irvine in California, have notable Korean American communities.

6. French

French is the 6th most common foreign language in the US, with 1,200,000 speakers. It’s prevalence boils down to a combination of history and geography. Historically, the French had claims over several parts of what is now the United States. As with all territories, parts of the culture and language were left over after the French (in this case) left. Geographically, the US shares a very long border with it’s northern neighbor, Canada, where French is very commonly spoken in several provinces.

Maine has the highest number of French Americans, with about 175,000 individuals making up 12.5% of the state’s population. New Hampshire follows with about 150,000 French Americans (11.3% of the state’s population), and Louisiana ranks third with about 475,000 French Americans (10.5% of the state’s population). Other states with significant French American populations include Vermont, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

Franco-Americans have historically settled in areas such as the Midwest, Louisiana, Northern New England, and northern New York. Key cities influenced by early Franco-American settlers include Des Moines (Iowa), St. Louis (Missouri), Louisville (Kentucky), and Detroit (Michigan). Today, Franco-Americans are most numerous in New England, northern New York, the Midwest, Louisiana, and northern California.

5. Arabic

Arabic has over 1,350,000 speakers living within the United States, accounting for nearly 0.5% of the U.S. population. It is the fastest-growing foreign language taught by colleges and universities in the states, and sits as the 10th most popular to study. Within the US, the highest concentrations of Arabic speakers are (in descending order) in California, Michigan, New York, Texas, Illinois, New Jersey, Virginia, Florida and Ohio​​.

Outside of the United States, Arabic and similar dialects are widely spoken in the middle east. There are 25 countries that claim Arabic as their official or co-official language. Notable among these are Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

4. Vietnamese

The Vietnamese language is the 4th most commonly spoken foreign language in the US, with over 1,500,000 speakers. It is the third most commonly spoken language in the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Washington, making Vietnamese a great choice for a secondary language if you live in these states.

Outside America, Vietnamese is the official language of Vietnam, and a south Chinese province called Guangxi. There is also a considerable portion of native speakers located in Laos, Cambodia, France, and Australia.

3. Tagalog

Tagalog is an Austronesian language that takes much of it’s dialect from English and Spanish. It is the official language of the Philippines, and the third most commonly spoken foreign language in America with about 1,700,000 speakers. For the Census Reports, Tagalog includes a slightly different dialect called Filipino.

Filipino Americans alone consist of a population of slightly more than four million, with the highest ethnic concentrations being focused in California, Hawaii, Illinois, Texas, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Florida and Washington.

2. Chinese

Chinese is the 2nd most commonly spoken language in the US, with around 3,400,000 speakers. For the Census Reports, this includes a combination of both Mandarinת Cantonese and Hokkien dialects. Chinese is the third most commonly spoken foreign language in the state of New York, with high concentrations of native speakers also living in California, Texas, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Illinois.

Globally, Chinese is the official language of China, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau. Approximately 16 percent of the world’s population speaks Chinese as a first language, which translates to around 1.2 billion people.

1. Spanish

Spanish is by far the most commonly spoken foreign language in the United States, with nearly 42 million Spanish speakers. This has much to do with the close proximity of countries in Central America, and ongoing immigration from these countries, as well as places like Puerto Rico and Cuba. Spanish is spoken by about 25% of the population in California, Texas and New Mexico. It is spoken by nearly 20% of the population in Florida, Nevada and Arizona. Spanish is the most commonly studied foreign language in the states, with around 6 million students.

Spanish is quickly growing, with conservative estimates placing Spanish speakers in the US at around 138 million by the year 2050. It is the 2nd most commonly spoken language in 43 of 50 states. Globally, Spanish is the official or co-official language of 21 different countries.


With such a diverse population, the United States is home to a substantial number of other foreign languages. While the top 10 are undoubtedly the best choices for localization of your marketing efforts, there are other options that may be viable if you target certain areas with a high concentration of native speaking populations. These are the runner-up languages most spoken in the United States:

  1. Portuguese (920,000)
  2. Hindi (874,000)
  3. Italian (708,000)
  4. Polish (667,000)
  5. Urdu (534,000)
  6. Japanese (477,000)
  7. Persian (440,000)
  8. Gujarati (410,000)
  9. Telegu (370,000)
  10. Bengali (320,000)

About the Author

Chelsea Falin is a dedicated professional with 10+ years experience working as a freelance writer, and 5+ years as a freelance marketer. Studied at ASU for Bachelors in English with minor in Media Analysis, and obtained certification in inbound and content marketing via HubSpot Academy. Experience in multiple forms of digital content.

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  1. The USA does not have an official language.
    American English is the most common language in the USA. Iowa House Representative Steve King keeps introducing a ‘Make English the official language in the United States ‘ bill, but it hasn’t passed.

    1. Some people like Native Americans identify with their language and feel injured by the US government for having displaced them and eradicated their languages. Generations of people speak French, German and Spanish in their communities since before the USA as we know it was founded. The enforcement of a language and disregard to other languages is considered a genocide.

      1. Thanks for your comment Mauro, but I disagree with what you are saying. It would be a genocide if the US government would outlaw a language and forbid it from being spoken. What proponents of the language law are saying is that a county should have an official language for various reasons.

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