The Top Languages Spoken in California

Languages spoken in California

Written by Kristina Temelkova

I'm from Stara Zagora, Bulgaria and I'm currently pursuing an English degree at the University of Vienna. My lifelong passions are languages and writing. I speak English, Bulgarian, German and Russian.

July 6, 2021

Have you ever wondered what are the top languages spoken in California?

California, also known as the Golden State is best known for its beautiful beaches, national parks, and vast wine-growing regions.

Many people associate it with Hollywood and Silicon Valley. Its population is a little less than 40 million people and, surprisingly or not, a big proportion of it consists of immigrants.

California is one of the most linguistically diverse states in the US. It’s estimated that more than 200 languages spoken on its territory.

What’s more, California is the state with the highest number of immigrants – in 2019 over one-fourth of the population was foreign-born. This is two times more than in the rest of the US!

California

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A fact worth mentioned that more than half of the immigrants in California naturalized as US citizens while fourth – have a visa, a green card, or some other document that grants them legal status.

According to the Center for Migration Studies around 20% of all immigrants undocumented. However, this number continues to decline.

Of course, the rising number of documented immigrants generally regarded as a positive trend, but it also indicates that the linguistic heritage of California will remain as diverse since so many immigrants are permitted to stay.

This, in turn, means that understanding this diversity is crucial, especially for businesses that want to expand to California.

Language Census

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I hope all these numbers and statistics have sparked your curiosity! Stay with me a few more minutes because in this blog you will learn about the most widely spoken languages in California.

Check Out: LANGUAGE INFOGRAPHIC GALLERY

1. English language spoken in California by percent

You might be wondering: What about English? The truth, the US does not have an official language and English (or more precisely, American English) regarded as a de facto national language.

This means that English, spoken by the majority of the American population and this is the only reason why all institutions, media, and businesses opt for English.

In reality, the American population and especially this of California is incredibly multilingual. According to a recent study, only 11% of all people living in California speak only English.

This means that the rest of the English-speaking population is at least bilingual.

What’s more, over half of the English-speaking population in California has limited English proficiency (LEP). On top of that, around 45% of all Californian households don’t speak English at home.

The popularity of English in the US is rather misleading. Thus, many people fail to recognize the linguistic diversity of the Golden State.

2. Spanish – 2nd most common language spoken in California

Spanish Language

Spanish, the most popular language after English spoken in the territory of the US. 6 years ago a study showed that currently there are more native Spanish speakers in the US than in Spain. Today California is home to the second biggest Spanish-speaking population in the US after the state of New Mexico.

Also read: The Prevalence of the Spanish Language Within the US

Nearly 11 million people speak Spanish in California. In the Los Angelis metropolitan area, San Bernadino, Riverside, and San Diego are among the regions in California where the majority of the population speaks the Spanish language.

In fact, a lot of Spanish-speaking people live on the territory of California long before the American nation got established.

California was part of Mexico until the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848. Besides Mexico, there are huge communities from Spain, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic.

Also read: An Introduction to Universal Spanish

Chinese_laborers

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Most of the Spanish speakers living in California come from Latin America and around 40% of all immigrants have an LEP.

The number of Spanish speakers in the US expected to continue to grow. According to experts by 2050 there will be around 140 million Spanish speakers in the US.
This will be the biggest Spanish-speaking population in the world!

The growing number of Spanish speakers in the US proves it necessary for US institutions to publish their content in both English and Spanish.

What’s more, many businesses decide to localize their products in Spanish because in this way they can reach a wider audience.

Also Read: Spanish Localization: Should You Localize into LA or European Spanish?

3. Other popular languages in the US

Recognizing the growing Spanish-speaking population, however, is not enough if we want to take into account the wide and rich linguistic diversity of California.

Also Read: An Introduction to Universal Spanish

There are hundreds of other languages that are spoken on the territory of the Golden State and it would be virtually impossible to describe all of them, so here are the most popular ones.

3.1 percentage of Chinese speakers in California

China town in California

Let’s start with Chinese. Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese) spoken by over 1.2 million people – only half of them are fluent in English.

Chinese immigrants first came to the US in the 1850s to try their luck in the Californian gold rush. During that time China was undergoing a great economic crisis.

After the Gold Rush, the Chinese immigrants, considered cheap labor and employed as farmers, laundry workers, and railroad workers.

Also Read: How To Localize Your Website For China

Chinese immigrants have a long and complicated history in the US – the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 banned Chinese immigrants from entering the US and almost one century had to pass until in 1965 all restrictions were lifted.

3.2 How many Tagalog speakers are there in California? 

Tagalog is a Central Philippine language and is the third most widely spoken language in California.

Spoken by 800,000 people and up to 70% of them claim that they can speak English fluently. Most Filipino immigrants came to the US in the 20th century, however, the earliest immigrants date back to the 1830s.

Filipino immigrants were a decisive force in the economic growth of the American industry. They were employed as farmers in California and even today one of the biggest Filipino communities in the US situated there.

Other languages that are spoken in California

Nearly 600,000 people identify themselves as fluent in Vietnamese and statistics show that around 60% of them have an LEP. The end of the Vietnam War in 1975 set the beginning of Vietnamese immigration to the US.

The humanitarian crisis in the Indochina region (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia) led to a large number of refugees getting admitted to the US.

A little less than 360, 000 people speak Korean in California and around 55% of them have an LEP. The first Korean immigrants arrived in the US at the beginning of the 20th century to work on pineapple and sugar plantations.

Also Read: Mistakes Linguists Make in Korean to English Translation

In the following years, thousands of Koreans fled to the US to escape the famine and the turbulent political climate in their homeland.

Today Korean immigrants are often regarded as very hard-working, well-educated, and skilled professionals.

Persian speakers, estimated to be over 200,000 and around one-third of them (38%) have an LEP.

Most Iranian immigrants have come to the US in the last few decades. After the Islamic fundamental revolution took place in the 1970s and Iran transformed into a theocratic state, many Iranian people fled to the US.

Today some of the biggest Persian-speaking communities are in Los Angelis.

Immigrants

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There are around 200,000 Hindi speakers in California and more than 80% speak English fluently.

Also Read: Hindi vs Urdu: What’s The Difference?

Indian immigrants came to the US during the 19th century and worked initially as blue-collar workers. Similar to the Chinese immigrants, Indian people got banned from entering the US until 1965.

Armenian, spoken by less than 200,000 people, and over 55% of all Armenian speakers claim that they can speak English “very well”. During the fall of the Ottoman Empire, many Christian minorities were targets of violent oppression.

Check Out: GLOBAL LANGUAGE FACTS

This resulted in the great Armenian migration to the US in the 1890s. The second and third migration waves followed after the First and the Second World War respectively.

While some immigrants have fled to America in search of better working opportunities, Armenian immigrants were compelled by bloodshed and violence to leave their homeland.

Other widely spoken languages in California are Arabic (188,961 speakers), Russian (166,222) Punjabi (148,200), Japanese (132,095), and French (123,607)1.

Unfortunately, the number of speakers of the native languages of North America continues to decline. As a result, these languages are likely to become extinct in the near future.

Also Read: 10 Reasons Why Arabic Is An Incredibly Interesting Language

To Conclude

Most immigrants in California, born either in Latin America (50%) or in Asia (39%). Immigrants have become an intrinsic part of the Californian population.

What’s more, studies show that people have a positive attitude towards them – 78% of Californian people believe that immigrants benefit the American economy.

Besides the economic benefit, we should acknowledge that we live in a linguistically diverse world.

While English got established as the most widely spoken language in California and in the US, we should not forget that a huge part of this American state is constituted of immigrants.

Recognizing the various languages spoken by thousands, if not millions, of people is a step every business should make in order to expand and conquer new markets.

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