Hola, xin chào, bonjour: many languages heard in NC homes

What language do you speak at home? Nearly one million North Carolinians reported speaking a language other than English at home, representing 11% or 1 in 9 state residents age 5 and older. Recently released tables from the U.S. Census Bureau provide detail on up to 380 unique languages and language groups spoken in states and select metro areas and counties based on the 2009-2013 American Community Survey.

Non-English speakers are concentrated in the state’s metropolitan areas, particularly Mecklenburg and Wake counties. During 2009-2013, more than 19% of the state’s population 5 years and older were living in Mecklenburg or Wake; together, these two counties held 31% of the state’s non-English speakers. Eighteen percent of individuals 5 and older spoke a language other than English at home in Mecklenburg, as did 17% in both Wake County and the Durham metropolitan area (Durham, Orange, Chatham, and Person counties), much higher than the statewide rate of 11%.

1 in 9 NC residents speak non English language at home

Statewide, most individuals who reported speaking a non-English language at home were speaking Spanish (67%), although this varied significantly across metro areas and counties. In Guilford County, 49% of non-English speakers reported speaking Spanish, the lowest rate among these counties and metros. The share of Spanish speakers (64%) in the Charlotte metro was more comparable to state averages.

Similarly, county and metro differences emerge when examining the English language abilities of non-English speakers. Statewide, 44% of non-English speakers reported that they speak English less than “very well”; this includes individuals who report speaking English “Well,” “Not well,” and “Not at all.” These are individuals who may struggle to communicate in English-dominant situations. The proportion of individuals who speak a non-English language at home and report speaking English less than “Very well” ranged from a low of 38% in Wake County to 47% in Guilford County and the Greensboro metro area.

Many languages heard in NC homes

One benefit of the new tables is increased detail on the languages spoken at home. The table above shows the top 10 non-English, non-Spanish languages spoken at home in North Carolina and the metro areas for which there are 2009-2013 data: Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro, and Raleigh. Statewide, the most commonly reported language other than English or Spanish was Chinese or Mandarin, followed by French, German, Vietnamese, and Arabic. Across the four metro areas, the most common non-English, non-Spanish languages were either Vietnamese (Charlotte and Greensboro) or Chinese (Durham and Raleigh).

Details of languages spoken at home highlight the diversity of North Carolina’s population. In addition to Indo-European languages—French, German, Portuguese, Italian, and Russian—there are multiple Indian languages in the top 10: Hindi and Gujarati, as well as Telugu, Tamil, and Urdu. Chinese and Vietnamese are not the only Asian and Pacific Island languages spoken; the state also has large numbers of individuals who reported speaking Korean, Tagalog (Philippines), Karen (Thailand), and Mon-Khmer/Cambodian at home. Last, African dialects (Kru, Ibo, Yoruba) are not as common in the state, but were among the top 10 languages other than English and Spanish reported spoken in Greensboro.

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About Rebecca Tippett

Rebecca Tippett is Director of Carolina Demography at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Carolina Population Center.

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