The number of Chinese speakers in the United States has increased by almost 360 per cent over the past 30 years, new government data has revealed.
The US Census Bureau report, “Language Use in the United States: 2011”, released on Tuesday shows that there were nearly 2.9 million people speaking Chinese in 2011 – up almost 360 per cent from 1980.
After English and Spanish, Chinese was the third most commonly spoken language in the country – a status it has held since at least 2007 – according to data collected about people who speak a language other than English at home.
In its report, the Census Bureau defined Chinese as including the following group of languages and dialects: Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka, Kan (Gan), Hsiang (Xiang), Fuchow (Fuzhou), Formosan and Wu.
Speaker numbers of other Asian languages also grew rapidly from 1980 to 2011.
As of 2011, Tagalog, Vietnamese and Korean each had more than a million speakers and all of them were among the top 10 most commonly spoken languages in the US.
Vietnamese speakers saw the largest percentage increase of nearly 600 per cent but Chinese speakers had the second-highest numerical gains after Spanish.
The number of Chinese speakers grew by almost 2.2 million from 1980.
The growing numbers of speakers of Asian languages in the US reflects increased immigration from Asia and dwindling immigration from Europe over the past 30 years.
“Fuelled by both long-term historic immigration patterns and more recent ones, the language diversity of the country has increased over the past few decades,” explained the report’s author Camille Ryan.
The two most common languages, English and Spanish, had around 231 million and 37.6 million speakers respectively.
Other languages in the top 10 were, in descending order, French, German, Arabic and Russian.
The report also noted that multilingualism was on the rise in the US, as the number of speakers of a non-English language grew 158 per cent from 1980 to 2010.
“As the nation continues to be a destination for people from other lands, this pattern of language diversity will also likely continue,” said Ryan.