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What are the Most Spoken Languages in New York City?

New York as an International City


New York City, one of the populous cities in the world, is well known as an immigrant city full of diverse languages and cultures. The extremely dense urban area of New York City is packed with an an estimated population of 8.82 million people, more of a third of which are foreign born. NYC is also one of the most internationally visited cities in the world with an estimated 13.5 million visitors in 2019 (a number which has dropped significantly since the Covid-19 pandemic). All this, along with it's historic legacy as the world's first megacity, make New York City a symbol of diversity and multiculturalism known to all.


Times square
Times Square, NYC. Source: Pexels

Naturally with New York's international status comes a great lingual diversity with over 600 different languages spoken in the metropolitan area. The NYC department of education boasts a list of over 500 schools with bilingual programs most of are for Spanish or Chinese (but also with some other less common languages such as Yiddish!). In total in New York City's public schools more than 176 different languages are spoken by more than 1 million students for many of which English is not their first language.


New York is also a destination where people go to learn languages, especially English. The city is overflowing with language schools to pick from using a site such as Language International or one can even try free English classes offered by the New York Public Library (NYPL). The great diversity of languages also makes New York an ideal place to find a language exchange partner or try a language exchange event such as Langroops NYC.


What are the Most Spoken Languages in NYC?


Table of the most spoken languages in nyc
Top Languages Spoken at Home. Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, 2011-2015 American Community Survey

English

This is not surprising considering English is the de facto official language in the United States. Approximately 65% of the people in New York City speak English at home. English is also the most spoken language in the world, meaning that even people of foreign origins are likely to have a basic command of the language.


Spanish

Spanish comes in second with 1.87 million residents speaking the language or 25% of the city. This is not surprising as over 2.4 million people in New York City identify as Hispanic or Latino. The Spanish spoken in the city has been influenced by dialects from Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and more creating a hybrid unique to the area. As can be seen above in the map from Business Insider there are even some neighborhoods where Spanish is the most spoken language such as Bushwick and Washington Heights.

Map of most spoken language in each neighborhood in NYC
Business Insider/Andy Kiersz, data from Minnesota Population Center 2011-2015 IPUMS

Chinese

In third place we have Chinese. With slightly over 3% of New York City's population speaking Chinese it is a significant drop from the two forerunners. This is further complicated by the diversity within those categorized as "Chinese" speakers. Chinese is a generic name used to refer to many different Chinese dialects the most commonly spoken one being Mandarin. When walking through New York's famous Chinatown you are likely to hear chatter in Cantonese and Fuzhou dialects alongside Mandarin.


What Other Languages are Spoken in NYC?


Check out this interactive map that shows most spoken languages in NYC by zip code.


French

French is recognized as an official language in 29 countries which can explain its prevalence in NYC. An article by UT Martin estimates that in the year 2000 the French speaking and francophone heritage speakers was approximately 1 million. This was due mostly to the large Haitian population which Haitian creole, a language with a strong French influence. If you want to support French culture in NYC you can visit the recently dubbed Little Paris in SoHo.


Russian

New York City has the largest Russian population in America (the continent) with almost 600,000 Russian-Americans living in the city. A high concentration of Russian speakers can be found in Little Russia, a small neighborhood near Coney Island where you can get a taste of Russian culture and cuisine.


Italian

The number of Italian speaker in the US is in a sharp decline. In the year 2000 there were over 1 million Italian speakers in the United States (29% of which were in NYC!), but in 2010 that number was down to just above 800,000. Even though you can't hear as much Italian spoken on the street, Italian culture is still alive and well at the nearly 1000 Italian restaurants in the city (some 450 of which are pizza). You can also visit Manhattan's Little Italy for a concentration of Italian food and culture.

Planning travel in NYC with a map and a camera

Korean

According to the Asian American Federation's report there are slightly under 100,000 people of Korean decent living in NYC as of 2010, mostly living in the borough of Queens. That isn't many Korean speakers, but if you want to raise your chances, head over to Koreatown in midtown Manhattan. There you are guaranteed to hear some Korean chatter while you are enjoying a bowl of Bibimbap or Bulgogi.


Arabic

In 2012 there were approximately 53,000 Arabic speakers in NYC. That said, it might still be a challenge finding someone to practice with due to the numerus Arabic dialects that exist around the world. If you want to get a glance of the Arab community in New York City you can check out this video tour of the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn.


German

New York City's East Village used to be world's third-largest German-speaking "city" with almost 30% of the city were of German decent, but after the General Slocum Disaster those numbers dwindled. Germans may be hard to come by, but the language still lives on in NYC through the Yiddish (a German/Hebrew creole language) speaking community.


Endangered Languages in NYC


Endangered languages are languages that are at risk of falling out of use or becoming extinct due to low usage and being replaced by other more widespread languages. The ELA (Endangered Language Alliance) has composed an interactive map highlighting the linguistic diversity of NYC with an emphasis on endangered and rare languages.



Why Should You Learn a Language in NYC?


Learning another language can open you up to new worlds and cultures. With new language skills you will be able to tap into more of the city's diversity and discover a completely new NYC. The multitude of languages in the city also makes it a great opportunity for real life practice with native speakers of hundreds of different languages. If you ever make it to NYC, just one walk down the street will convince you that just one language is not enough to enjoy the magical city. Who knows, you may even get a discount on your burrito if you can ask in perfect Spanish.


Don't take our word for it though and check out this List of Reasons to Learn a Language in NYC.


How to Learn a Language in NYC?


To be honest, learning a language in NYC is just like learning a language anywhere else in the world. You can choose to learn by taking a course, finding a private teacher or just buying a textbook and studying alone at the nearby library. The advantage of NYC are the endless choices. You can choose from top language schools and teachers or pop open Tandem (pay for pro) and search for local language exchange partners. If you are more of a social person you can also try searching Meetup.com for language learning events such as Langroops NYC language exchange which is one of the most popular language events in the city for sincere learners.




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