Number of Chinese speakers in US surges to 2.9m

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 August, 2013, 5:28am

The number of Chinese speakers in America has increased almost 360 per cent over the past 30 years.

A US Census Bureau report, "Language Use in the United States: 2011", shows that there were nearly 2.9 million Chinese speakers in 2011 - up almost 360 per cent from 1980.

After English and Spanish, Chinese is the next most commonly spoken language in the country, a status it has held since at least 2007.

The survey collected data on people who speak a language other than English at home.

In its report, the Census Bureau defined Chinese as including 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.

By 2011, Tagalog, Vietnamese and Korean each had more than one million speakers. All were among the 10 most commonly spoken languages.

The largest percentage increase was in Vietnamese speakers - nearly 600 per cent. But Chinese speakers had the second-highest numerical gain 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.

"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," report author Camille Ryan said.

The two most common languages, English and Spanish, had 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 noted that multilingualism was on the rise in the US, as the number of speakers of a non-English language grew 158 per cent between the years 1980 and 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.