News / USA

Interactive US Census Map Pinpoints Foreign Language Speakers

New citizens are naturalized during a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization ceremony in Oakland, California, Aug. 13, 2013.
New citizens are naturalized during a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization ceremony in Oakland, California, Aug. 13, 2013.
Jessica Berman
The United States is becoming more ethnically, culturally - and linguistically - diverse.

The U.S. Census Bureau has released an online, interactive map showing where non-English languages are spoken around the country with an eye toward targeting services to non-English speaking communities.

The new Census Bureau map pinpoints clusters of people throughout the country whose first language is not English. Each dot on the 2011 Language Mapper represents an area where one of 15 languages is the primary tongue spoken in the home.

Census Bureau statistician Camille Ryan compiled the data. With the click of a mouse, she says users can get detailed location information, based on interviews with people who reported that they spoke English “less than very well.”  

“As you zoom in to even smaller geographic areas, then the dots will represent less people - be it 10 people or 75 or 50.  So, it’s designed to kind of give you an overall visual of the patterns of people who speak a particular language other than English at home,” Ryan said.

Those other languages - spoken at home by more than 60-and-a-half million people - are Spanish, French, French Creole, Italian, Portuguese, German, Russian, Polish, Persian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog, Arabic and Vietnamese.

Spanish is spoken by two-thirds of those in the report. Vietnamese saw the greatest jump in the number of speakers - a seven-fold increase between 2005-2011.  

While the mapper is based on a survey assembled over the past 7 years, it included census data gathered over the last three decades. During that time, the number of non-English speakers in the United States rose 158 percent, compared to the population growth among the general population of 38 percent.

Ryan says the interactive map has a variety of uses.

“For example, if you are a business and you are looking to tailor your communication to a particular customer, you will know what languages you need to address for that particular community," she said. "In addition to that, if you are an emergency responder, you can actually use the mapper to figure out what languages you need to be able to communicate in with people in your particular community.”

Ryan says the 2011 Language Mapper is also useful for libraries and schools so they can offer programs and courses to help improve English language proficiency.

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