August 13, 2013

Spanish is the most spoken non-English language in U.S. homes, even among non-Hispanics

FT_Non_EnglishA record 37.6 million persons ages 5 years and older speak Spanish at home, according to an analysis of the 2011 American Community Survey by the Pew Research Center.

Spanish is, by far, the most spoken non-English language in the U.S. The next most spoken non-English languages are Chinese (with 2.8 million speakers), Hindi, Urdu or other Indic languages (2.2 million), French or French Creole (2.1 million), and Tagalog (1.7 million).

The number of Spanish speakers in the U.S. has grown rapidly in recent decades, reflecting the arrival of new immigrants from Latin America and growth in the nation’s Hispanic population. Today 34.8 million Hispanics ages 5 and older speak Spanish at home.

However, not all Spanish speakers are Hispanic. According to our analysis, some 2.8 million non-Hispanics speak Spanish at home today. That places Spanish at the top of the list of non-English languages spoken by non-Hispanics along with Chinese and ahead of all other languages.

(The U.S. Census Bureau measure of non-English language use captures how many people say a language other than English is spoken in the home but does not capture how well or how often the language is spoken).

Who are the 2.8 million non-Hispanics who speak Spanish at home? Some 59% trace their ancestry to non-Spanish European countries such as Germany, Ireland, England and Italy. An additional 12% say they are of African American descent. Nonetheless, about one-in-five (18%) non-Hispanic Spanish speakers trace their heritage to a Spanish-speaking country. By comparison, among the non-Hispanic U.S. population ages 5 and older, about two-thirds (64%) trace their ancestry to non-Spanish European countries, 13% say their ancestry is African American and 1% trace their heritage to a Spanish-speaking country.

Nine-in-ten (89%) of non-Hispanic Spanish speakers were born in the U.S., a share similar to that for all non-Hispanics ages 5 and older (91%).

The racial composition of non-Hispanic Spanish speakers mirrors that of the U.S. non-Hispanic population. Overall, three-quarters (77%) of non-Hispanics who speak Spanish at home are white, 14% are black, and 9% say they belong to some other racial group. Among the non-Hispanic U.S. population ages five years and older, 76% are white, 14% are black, and 9% are some other race.

Many non-Hispanic Spanish speakers reside in a household where at least one other member is Hispanic. Overall, 26% of non-Hispanic Spanish speakers live in these types of households. By comparison, just 3% of all non-Hispanics ages 5 and older live in such households.

Three-in-ten (28%) non-Hispanics Spanish speakers who are married live with a Hispanic spouse. By comparison, only 2% of non-Hispanics are living with a Hispanic spouse.

When it comes to English proficiency, eight-in-ten (80%) non-Hispanics who speak Spanish at home say they speak English “very well”, 11% say they speak English “well”, and 9% say they speak English “not well” or do not speak English.  This compares with 96% of all non-Hispanics 5 years and older who speak English only or speak it “very well”, 2% who speak English “well”, and 2% who speak English “not well” or do not speak English.

Topics: Language, Hispanic/Latino Demographics

  1. Photo of Ana Gonzalez-Barrera

    is a senior researcher focusing on Hispanics, immigration and demographics at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Mark Hugo Lopez

    is director of Hispanic research at Pew Research Center.


  1. Itziar Pla-Garde2 years ago

    It’s amazing how fast Spanish language is growing world-wide. Definitely a good choice if your contemplating to learn a new language: beautiful and useful.

    I started learning it one year ago and I’m very happy with the results. I decided to study via Skype (at a school called because I didn’t have too much time to go to a “normal” school. It’s quite an effort to make but it is definitely paying off 🙂

  2. jessica2 years ago

    it true all most everyone speak Spanish

    is not so cool

  3. jeshlimar2 years ago

    it true all most everyone speak Spanish

  4. Mehmet Chin2 years ago

    “Nonetheless, about one-in-five (18%) non-Hispanic Spanish speakers trace their heritage to a Spanish-speaking country.”

    I understand non-Hispanics can speak Spanish as first or second language, but trace their heritage to a Spanish-speaking country?

    For example, not all people in Spain are ethnic Spanish. There are Black Spaniards, Chinese Spaniards, Pakistani, Romanian, Morrocan, Filipino, British Spaniards. If they move to the US, they may speak Spanish but they wouldn’t be “Spanish/ Hispanic Americans”, just like British Indians living in US are “Asians” and not “English Americans” a subset of White/ European Americans.

    Then, you may speak Spanish because you were raised in Spain, but that doesn’t mean you can “trace your heritage” to Spain. Only ethnic Spaniards (from Spain or elsewhere, eg. Latin America) can do so. Hispanics trace their heritage to Spanish-speaking countries (Spain, Mexico, Cuba, Argentina). Latinos, unlike the Spanish, have White, African, Amerindian, Arab,and East Asian origins, and still can identify as ethnic Mexicans, ethnic Argentines, ethnic Cubans if they wish, and trace their ancestry or heritage to those countries

  5. Mary2 years ago

    I’m interested in this article because so often I talk to people whose parents speak Spanish, but they themselves have only learned English. I find this sad because acquiring a second language as an adult is so difficult (I will probably work on Spanish until I die) and learning it as a child comes so naturally.

    I know that I have battled with my daughter and son-in-law because they have not taught Spanish to their girls–such a shame because they are both fluent Spanish speakers.

    I think your numbers are heartening! I was glad to see that so many people in the U.S. speak this beautiful language. I wonder how many speak the language well? I know my youngest daughter quit dating a young man (for lots of reasons) but one of the things that drove her crazy was that his Spanish was more baby-talk than real conversation. Hmmmmmmmm! Interesting.

  6. kaliya2 years ago

    love ittttttttttttttttttttttttttt omg i learn spanish just like that

  7. Randolph Tidd3 years ago

    What kind of research is available on the preferences of the Spanish speaking consumer of news? I am building a coalition to establish an outlet for government policy analysis and discussion that concentrate on greater depth than what I know of in the established “for profit” outlets.

  8. Raghnaid3 years ago

    Well, I’m a “white” (British-)Australian, but I speak enough Spanish to survive by myself as an exchange student in Spain. Let me tell you of an interesting encounter I had when I was in the US with my family recently.

    It was late at night (some time past midnight) at Houston airport, and naturally enough, everyone was tired, and as we were waiting for our bags to come out, I noticed the young family seated next to me were speaking to each other in Spanish. After a while, my younger sister came over to me, and said she needed the toilet. I didn’t know where they were, so I turned to the lady next to me, and said, “Disculpeme, pero donde estan los banos?”

    I’ll never forget the look of surprise on her face. To me, a teenage traveller who considers the formative experience of her childhood finding herself lost in Austria with no way to communicate, it seems only natural to speak to someone in their own language. To her, the idea that a white person, a foreigner, might speak to her in Spanish was evidently unimaginable. Given a conversation I had with an English-speaking Texan a few days later, I can understand why.

    There were many things I didn’t like about the USA when I visited, but Hispanic culture was not one of them. Racism was worse than I had been led to believe prior to my visit, but monolingualism was scarcer. We’re told that America is one of the most monolingual places on Earth, and that coming from Australians is really saying something. The truth is, the US is bilingual and should be proud of it. It wasn’t just in the south that signs were in Spanish; I saw “wet floor” signs and food packaging in Spanish as far north as Pennsylvania. I was amazed, and pleased, and I’m to be honest shocked at how many people on this page have made negative comments about Spanish.

    The woman did eventually give me the directions to the toilets, and we didn’t say anything further to each other, since the bags started arriving. But I’ll never forgot her reaction to something as simple as me speaking Spanish. It seems a common courtesy.

    Spanish is my fifth language (after English, German, French, and Gaelic), and if I’m being honest, I had more trouble with using English in the US than I did with Spanish! By the time we arrived in Houston, I’d been speaking almost only Spanish to everyone except my family for several days, because I had such trouble with the English. I can only guess that because everyone knew Spanish wasn’t my first language, they went slow with me, as opposed to those who used English with me and assumed I could understand them at speed because it was my first language.

    The USA, like Australia, doesn’t have an official language, but unlike Australia, it has two dominant languages, even if one is considered by the elite to be inferior. My Spanish teacher here in Australia (and let me tell you, Spanish teachers are hard to come by in a country where the second languages of choice are German, Italian, Indonesian and Japanese) told great care to inform us that within the decade, the USA is expected to have the highest population of Spanish-speakers in the world. 38 million (at present) is nothing to poke a stick at, either – it’s more than one and a half times the population of my country.

    (BTW, Mexican food? Yummo! Never had it before I visited the US. I’m still a little disconcerted by the American version of a tortilla, having spent time in Spain with their thick potato pancake tortillas, but the rest of it was delicious!)

  9. Juanito3 years ago

    I learned Spanish because I live in New York City and many women only spoke spanish. Then I started traveling frequently to a Spanish country and had a Spanish speaking girlfriend there. Sometime I use it at work to speak to customers that only speak spanish

  10. Hannah3 years ago

    how many people have learned Spanish as a second language in Florida?

  11. DeJeri3 years ago

    I am African American and fluent in Spanish. I have enrolled my daughter in a free bilingual public school in my area. Spanish is a beautiful language. It is sad that most Americans only speak one idiom while in other parts of the world multi-linguism is common.

  12. jai troy4 years ago

    Perhaps you might consider putting a chart with just numbers and names.

  13. Frederick Colbourne4 years ago

    The motivation for non-Hispanics speaking Spanish would be an interesting research project.

    For me it’s mainly for fun because I don’t use dictionaries or grammar books anymore.

    Neither my sister or I speak Spanish as a first language but I just sent her a birthday card in Spanish because I knew that would get her thinking about a trip to Chile that she enjoyed immensely. The recuerdos will be my birthday gift.

    I worked on three projects in Latin America for international agencies and now try to keep up Spanish language proficiency by watching movies with the Spanish audio and subtitles turned on. [Youtube makes it easy now to read subtitles while listening.]

    I can follow if I keep the speed to 80% of normal frame rate. The fun part is watching the Hound of the Baskervilles with the audio in Spanish.

    Another good one was Que viene Valdez (Valdez is Coming, Elmore Leonard’s novel.)

    I thought that Burt Lancaster was miscast because he had blue eyes, but a little research showed me that the State of Sonora was known for its blue-eyed immigrants from Europe.

    Stereotypes of Latinos die hard and Spanish language study helps to dispel the stereotypes. Another research project?

    1. Denise3 years ago

      Fantastico que estes aprendiendo espanol!! Yo soy chilena y es un orgullo que a tu hermana le haya encantado mi pais. gracias

  14. Katia Hurless4 years ago

    So sorry you’ll miss the workshop!…

  15. Mika Roinila4 years ago

    I enjoyed your article very much. Thank you. I’d love to find more articles on this – do you have any suggestions? I’ve done some research on this through the Minnesota Population Center IPUMS data base, and it’s interesting that while the English language is dominant, among all Nordic Americans there is a growing number of people who speak Spanish at home rather than one of their original languages such as Swedish, Norwegian, etc. Only the Finnish language has yet to be surpassed by a larger number of Spanish speakers. I am very interested in these trends, and suspect that with time, most if not all ethnic groups will lose their native languages which will be replaced by Spanish that will be spoken at home. See my article at… (pages 10-18).

    1. Eduardo Herrera3 years ago

      Hey Mika.

      Do you have any information on how many Americans are learning Spanish in Texas, New Mexico, Florida, California, Arizona as a need?

      I know that in these cities among others are the mayority of hispanic people. But I want to know if americans in thos areas are really interested in Learning Spanish.

      I would Truly Appreciate any help.

      1. mika roinila3 years ago

        Sorry, I have no info on that but maybe you can find something at the u of Minnesota population center. Good luck.

  16. Steve4 years ago

    Are many of the 2.8 million non-Hispanics who speak Spanish at home people living in areas that are predominantly Spanish speaking, such as the USA/Mexico border region? Just a guess. I wonder if the high number of french speakers is powered by immigrants from former French colonies such as Haiti and Madagascar… possibly even Vietnam? The small number of Cajun French speakers are dying off at a rapid pace, and French-Canadian culture in the USA is a far cry from what it was a century ago. People from France are a small presence in the USA, but due to their “racial” diversity, it would be interesting to see more of them immigrate here. Many of the German speakers are likely Amish. It would be interesting to learn more about the Native American peoples who were the first to live in the New World’s Hispanic countries, that have immigrated north of the Rio Grande. To those who are not in the know, most people identifying as Hispanic list their “race” as “white” in the US Census.

  17. Victor4 years ago

    How can I cite this article?

  18. kodhambo4 years ago

    Why the focus on non-hispanics speaking Spanish at home, but are conversant in English? Can you tell me about the big elephant, what fraction of Hispanics who speak spanish at home, but conversant in English?

  19. Dan4 years ago

    My family is nearly all German decent and my sister and I speak Spanish to each other at home because we learned it in school. Its fun to talk in another language and we enjoy it. Our parents used to get annoyed but I said well it’s your fault you didn’t learn German from your parents (my grandparents can speak German quite well) to teach us so don’t be mad! Haha its no big deal, this poll is interesting because it shows my sister and I aren’t the only “white kids” who speak Spanish to each other!

    1. Yo3 years ago

      The survey is not considereing inmigrants from Philippines (specially old people) who are spanish speakers, ad maybe their children if they have lived near the south american communities.
      It is difficult to identify yourself as “latin-american” if you have clearly asian features. Even moe what is the number of recent migrant into US from Equatorial Guinea in Africa? They are also spanish speakers, but this time african and black

    2. Anonymous1 year ago

      cool my friends, yeah im learning english as a second language , and it’s fun to speak in another language.

  20. Audacious Epigone4 years ago

    What are the comparable English proficiency stats for Hispanic Spanish speakers in the US? We get the breakdown on proficiency among non-Hispanics–both those who speak Spanish and those who do not–but not for Hispanic Spanish speakers in the US. Any chance of sharing that?

  21. AVM4 years ago

    I am curious, what does this study consider “Hispanic” and “non-Hispanic”? As far as I know, “Hispanic” is a legal term in the United States concerning anyone who originates from a Spanish-speaking country. Is the study referring to race? I do not believe that race is an accurate way to define Spanish-speakers, as many people who live or come from South America are white. I get especially confused when the article says that “many non-Hispanic Spanish speakers reside in a household where at least one other member is Hispanic.”

    1. Mark Hugo Lopez4 years ago

      Hello AVM. In our study, someone is considered Hispanic if they say they are. This is how the Census Bureau also identifies Hispanics–Hispanic identity is based on a self-report. You are correct that there is a formal federal government definition, but in practice someone is identified as Hispanic if they say they are. (You can read more about this here:….)

      In answer to your question about race, our study does not treat Hispanic identity or langauge as a race. In Census Bureau surveys like the ACS (the data source for our analysis) respondents are asked two questions about race and ethnicity. First they are asked if they are Hispanic or not. Then they are asked what their race is. It is the response to the first question that we used in our study to identify Hispanics and non-Hispanics.

      Even so, its important to note that some non-Hispanics are immigrants from Latin American countries. In otherwords, they do not identify themselves as Hispanics, but say they have ancestry in Latin America (Mexico, Argentina, Cuba, etc). In our study, we did not reclassify these individuals as Hispanics since they do not self-report as Hispanics. But many of these non-Hispanics are Spanish speakers. We make a note of this in our analysis.

      With regards to your question about non-Hispanic Spanish speakers living with someone who is Hispanic, we provided that tabulation in order to document the share of non-Hispanic Spanish speakers who may have a Hispanic spouse, for example.

      1. AVM4 years ago

        Thank you!

  22. bnc6264 years ago

    First of all…..I didn’t think “Chinese” was even a language…. I always thought that the languages were Cantonese or mandarin….secondly, this is an example of America selling out to foreigners!! I speak English and if you come here to the USA, you should learn English!! Keep your own language in your house!! It is really rude and disrespectful of foreigners to even request that Americans bend over backward to cater to them!! The american government gives these people no incentive to even learn English because the American government has the nerve to cater to them!! They create every single form in every single language…..if you want medicaid or welfare or a drivers license, then you should know how to fill out an English language form!!

    1. AVM4 years ago

      I would like to point out that under the graph, there is a description that says that Chinese includes both Mandarin and Cantonese.
      Also, I would like to respond to your concern about people not speaking English. This report merely talks about languages spoken at home and is not an assessment of skill with the English language. You would probably not be able to tell by my English that I speak both German and Spanish in my household. Both of my parents are also fluent in English. I don’t understand how you came to conclude that a knowledge of another language means a lack of knowledge in English, but I wanted to clarify that for you.

    2. Mel Cruz4 years ago

      This country was founded on foreigners in case you didn’t know. Speaking spanish is part of what we are and our culture. Your ignorance is amazing I am super proud of being a Latino in the US and speak spanish all day everyday to my boy so like my Dominican mom would say si a ti no te gusta allí ta la puerta.

      1. benabelly4 years ago

        Small correction: 2 founders were Irish. James Smith, George Taylor and Matthew Thornton. Guess what. They spoke ENGLISH.

        1. Mario Gonzalez4 years ago

          Florida was founded by Ponce De Leon and he spoke Spanish, same with almost all southwest of USA was Spanish territory, so your point doesn’t work here.

    3. Joe4 years ago

      No one cares how you feel bnc626!! I will continue to talk in Polish when I am out and even Spanish which I will continue to practice. I find Spanish as a beautiful language and an easier phonetic language than English. Just don’t be an ignoramus. I am pretty sure no one cares who speaks what language when they are not in home.

    4. Raghnaid3 years ago

      1) Cantonese and Mandarin aren’t the only Chinese languages, but the survey does specify that “Chinese” includes those two and others. For your information, Mandarin is the official language of mainland China, while Cantonese is predominantly spoken in Hong Kong.

      2) I can’t believe this. “This is an example of America selling out to foreigners”. May I remind you that the “white” English-speakers ARE the foreigners? How long have you been in North America? Six hundred years? Was there anyone there before you?

      Maybe I don’t quite understand your point of view, given that I’m not American, but my country’s in a pretty similar situation. People here keep going on about boat people coming to Australia, speaking other languages, destroying our culture, inflating our population, enforcing their oppressive dress code, and I just think… Well, if the Aboriginals had had television two hundred and fifty years ago, what do you think they’d have said?

      3) America, like Australia, has no official language. People just assume it’s English. Yes, it’s the common language of government, but there’s no law in place in either country to say that official documents or anything, really, HAS to be done in English. Again, when Europeans went to North America, should the indigenous peoples have said, “It’s really rude and disrespectful that they speak their own language. They should learn ours! They the nerve to expect us to learn their languages! If they want to live here, they should at least know how to fill out a form in (Cree/Navajo/whatever).

      Multilingualism and multiculturalism is a great thing. I was a monolingual English-speaker until I was a teenager, and I wish my father, who was fluent in both French and German when I was born, had used another language with us at home. Since then, I’ve done my best to learn other languages. I’ve spent time in Europe and I know what it’s like to find myself somewhere where my language isn’t the important one, and where I can’t communicate in the only way I know how. I can’t believe the self-centred superiority of people who can stand up and say, “Everyone’s got to speak my language, and everything else is unimportant and backwards.”

  23. orville k goodin4 years ago

    I am confused: “Overall, three-quarters (77%) of non-Hispanics who speak Spanish at home are white, 14% are black, and 9% say they belong to some other racial group.”

    Who are these non- Hispanics: “Some 59% trace their ancestry to non-Spanish European countries such as Germany, Ireland, England and Italy. An additional 12% say they are of African American descent. [Nonetheless, about one-in-five (18%) non-Hispanic Spanish speakers trace their heritage to a Spanish-speaking country.]

    Who are these folk? Filipinos, Indeginous population(?) etc.?

    1. Rodrigvm4 years ago

      Contrary to the US which is obsesively mono lingual most nations around the world learn other languages including Spanish. I have some British friends that lived in Argentina and speak better Spanish (at home) than some Latinos. Also, many upper middle class whites send their children to double immersion schools to learn Spanish while Latinos assimilate and can’t speak Spanish. When you do business with Latin America not speaking grammatically correct Spanish leads to being dismissed or labelled as uneducated. That is why many white sin the business world learn Spanish (and of course English). South American nations like Chile Argentina, Brazil (despite the occasional turmoil) are doing economically better than the US and it 1%/99% inequality.

    2. Nuno Brito3 years ago

      “Who are these non- Hispanics”. A large portion could be Portuguese speakers, we’re now >200 million and counting.

      For a Portuguese speaker it is relatively easy to learn/use Spanish due to the common Latin language basis, albeit the overwhelming majority of Portuguese speakers will decline to be labelled as “hispanic” because Portuguese language is older than Castillian and the “hispanic” label applied to lands under Spanish influence, not to regions of the globe such as Brazil, Africa and India that were under Portuguese influence at the time.

  24. Martin Vega4 years ago

    While these numbers are illuminating, I think it would help if PEW Hispanic were to delve deeper into the issue of the growing number of non-Hispanic (indigenous) that reside in the U.S. It is notable that there is no mention of this population in the article.

    El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, the Mexican Institute of Immigration as well as the U.S. Census all show that the inflows of indigenous from Southern Mexico, Guatemala, and to a less extent Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador have been rising. And, that many come to U.S. either speaking a monolingual indigenous language, or in addition, Spanish. Given the U.S. Census’ weak methodology capturing non-Hispanic indigenous from Latin America, making adjustments for this population’s significant under-count would increase the number of Spanish-speakers among this segment of the population.

  25. Mr. Paulo Franca4 years ago

    Sounds great! It even proves that English is the language for international communication. In other words, it doesn’t matter what language one speaks at home or among peers. When it comes to the outside world English language is the boss. It is the world’s lingua franca. Full stop.

    1. Joe4 years ago

      Does not have to be English but people choose to use English since they live in the US.

      1. Chris Marlowe4 years ago

        I hope this does not offend English speakers, but I sense English language chauvinism in these comments.

        My first language is English, but if I meet a Spanish-language speaker I switch to Spanish. Ditto, I switch to French if I meet a Francophone.

        I switch to Spanish with Italian-language speakers and find that most understand Spanish with the same degree of difficulty I have understanding Spanish. But it works.

        North of the border in Canada there are two official languages and all laws are printed in both languages. Sounds like democracy where the Franco-phones are able to participate fully in civil affairs in own language. I understand that they were the first inhabitants and were guaranteed equal language rights in the Canadian constitution.

        I don’t remember seeing anything in the US Constitution that makes English the US national language.

        For the record, I learned Spanish on the streets, in bars and night-clubs, amazing people by pulling a dictionary out of my back pocket to look up unfamiliar words.

        Ademas, el mejor diccionario tiene sólo dos páginas

        1. bearmon20103 years ago

          Try Portuguese speaking language from Portugal. It is a beautiful language.

          1. Joe2 years ago

            Portuguese really is a beautiful global language which is the closest of any romance language to Spanish. Empirical research proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Spanish and Portuguese are the closest pair of romance languages – they are truly mutually intelligible sister languages. The accents are a little different, but it does not impede intelligibility as the vocabulary, grammar and sentence structure between both languages is 89%.