The Top 5 Asian American Languages Spoken in the US

The United States (US) is known as being a melting pot of different nationalities and it can be said that the country’s diversity comes from all the different cultures that reside there. Although at the federal level, the US doesn’t have an official language, it is broadly accepted that English is the country’s main language, followed by Spanish. 

However, what might be surprising is that over 40% of the US speaks primarily Asian languages after English and Spanish. This is nearly 50% of the entire population. In this article, we will explore the top five Asian American languages spoken in the country and provide some background and context for each one so that you can have a better idea of the rich cultural diversity that the US holds. Let’s take a closer look.

A brief overview of the US Asian Population

According to the Pew Research Center, the US Asian population is expected to reach 46 million by the year 2060. If we go back in time to the 1870 census, it was estimated that there were around 63,000 individuals who were then classified as Asian by the US Census Bureau. Fast-forward nearly a century later to 1960 when respondents could choose their own race, we had nearly one million or 980,000 individuals who self-identified as Asian. As recently as the year 2000, the figures nearly doubled to 22.4 million and today, this population group accounts for around 7% of the American population. 

But because Asia is such a huge continent comprising so many countries, it is not always easy to clearly identify a specific set of language speakers of Asian American languages spoken. In fact, instead of one clear-cut language dominating the scene, there are numerous Asian languages that arise in studies of the nation’s linguistic makeup.

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The top five Asian American languages spoken in the US

As mentioned earlier, English and Spanish are among the most spoken languages in the US. But what is the case when it comes to Asian American languages spoken in the US? Recent figures and statistics indicate that among the top 10 Asian American languages spoken in the US, we have Ilocano, Gujarati, and Nepali. However, the top five of these appear below in order from least spoken to most widely spoken. Let’s take a closer look at each one in turn.

5. Hindi

The US Hindi-speaking population is around 1.3% of the total US population. Although this may seem like quite a small number, the fact is that there are around 893,000 Hindi speakers in the country alone. That’s nearly one million individuals. 

Also interesting to note is that the Hindustani languages (Hindu and Urdu) are spoken by around 329 million native speakers around the world, but predominantly in India (Hindi) and Pakistan (Urdu). In the US, around 0.81 million people speak Hindi at home, while this figure is followed by another 0.47 million people who speak Urdu. As such, it is number five on our list of top five Asian American languages spoken.

4. Korean

Korean follows Hindi with a 1.6% share of the population or around 1,075,000 people in total. Because Korean is considered a “language isolate”, it is only spoken by people in North and South Korea. It does not bear any resemblance to other Asian languages and stands on its own linguistically without sharing roots with other languages. 

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In the US, one can find many Korean communities in places such as Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC, and Seattle, among many others. An interesting fact about Korean is that it is one of the top 15 non-English languages that is spoken in every US state. It makes it to number four on our list of Asian American languages spoken.

3. Vietnamese

In third place of Asian American languages spoken, we have Vietnamese, which takes a 2.3% share of the total population or otherwise expressed as 1,571,000 individuals in the US who speak the language. It is most commonly spoken in five states, which include Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Mississippi, and Georgia. 

It is believed that immigration to the US began shortly after the Vietnam War’s end in 1975 and numbers continue to rise. As the national language of Vietnam, it is spoken by 75 million people around the world. Much like Korean, it is considered one of the top 15 non-English languages in every state.

2. Tagalog

Number four on our list of top five Asian American languages spoken within America is Tagalog. This language comprises 2.6% of the total population or roughly estimated at around 1,764,000 people. It is mainly spoken in the state of Nevada by immigrants and former immigrants from the Philippines, who started arriving in the US at the turn of the 19th century. However, it was around 1965 when the biggest immigration wave from the Philippines started when skilled and educated workers began arriving in their thousands.

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It is estimated that there are over four million Filipino Americans in the country who are distributed in the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Washington, Wyoming, and South Dakota. An interesting fact about Tagalog is that it is an Austronesian language but it also borrows quite heavily from English and Spanish. Furthermore, it is one of the official languages of the Philippines and around one-quarter of the population speaks it as a native language.

1. Chinese (Mandarin/Cantonese)

And finally, in the first place among the top five Asian American languages spoken we have Chinese, which consists of both Mandarin and Cantonese. Speakers of these languages make up 5.2% of the American population or around 3,495,000 individuals. It is most commonly spoken in 17 states, which include: California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Alabama, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland.

It is believed that the California Gold Rush spurred this group to cross the Pacific Ocean and join the efforts and try their luck at striking gold. The Chinese population continues to rise and it is believed that there are more than five million Chinese Americans all around the US.

Wrapping up

Although they may not be the most spoken languages in the US, the Asian American languages spoken across the country contribute a large portion to the foreign languages spoken in the US, giving the country its great cultural and linguistic diversity. From Hindi and Korean to Vietnamese, Tagalog, and Chinese – these are the top five Asian languages that are spoken in America.