In California, English is the official state language. However, while the majority of the population speaks English – either as a primary or secondary language – many other languages are spoken by residents. Primarily, that’s because the population of California is highly diverse, and when people immigrate to the state, they typically maintain their first language.
Since that’s the case, an array of languages are spoken in California. Typically, which ones are present reflect the state’s immigration history, as well as current patterns. Here’s an overview of California’s immigration history, along with the top ten languages of California (other than English).
California Immigration History
Initially, California was solely home to Native Americans, but the landscape began changing once Europeans started exploring the region. The most notable early shift occurred when Spanish explorers and missionaries came to the area. By 1833, 21 missions were present. Native American populations declined sharply as they were exposed to diseases introduced by Europeans, and many others were subjugated or lost their lives through “pacification efforts.”
While the introduction of Europeans was initially limited, the landscape changed dramatically as California drew closer to statehood and the Gold Rush occurred. The Gold Rush attracted people living in the Midwestern United States, the majority of whom were of European descent.
Soon after, the Chinese population grew, with many serving in labor positions. Irish laborers also arrived during the height of railroad construction, increasing their numbers dramatically. During the 19th century, immigrants from a wider array of countries arrived in California. Japanese, Mexicans, and Russians came to the area in large numbers, altering the overall population composition.
People of African descent weren’t largely present in California until the mid-20th century when their numbers in major cities climbed dramatically. Asian immigrants from various countries – including Cambodia, Laos, South Korea, The Philippines, and Vietnam – surged during the latter part of the 20th century, as well. Hispanic immigrants also grew in numbers, as well as South Americans, Middle Easterners, Cubans, and Puerto Ricans, further altering the population composition.
Top 10 Languages of California (Other Than English)
California is the largest state by population, with about 39 million residents. The majority of people residing in the state do speak English. However, 43.9 percent of people (around 17.13 million residents) above the age of four living in California speak a language other than English at home.
Among the population, approximately 19.35 percent (an estimated 7.55 million residents) are considered to have limited English proficiency (LEP). As a result, a broad array of languages is actively spoken by Californians. Here is a look at the top ten languages of California (besides English).
In California, Spanish is the most widely used non-English language among residents. An estimated 10.51 million residents speak Spanish, giving them a population share of nearly 28.34 percent.
With approximately 1.26 million speakers, Chinese (including Cantonese and Mandarin) is the second most widely spoken non-English language in California. Overall, Chinese speakers represent nearly 3.40 percent of the population.
Tagalog (including Filipino) is spoken by an estimated 780,024 Californians. That gives them a population share of a little more than 2.10 percent.
In California, around 556,398 residents speak Vietnamese. As a result, Vietnamese speakers make up 1.50 percent of the population.
Approximately 358,018 Californians speak Korean. Taken together, Korean speakers represent nearly 0.97 percent of the state’s population.
Persian (including Farsi and Dari) is spoken by an estimated 211,089 California residents, giving them a population share of almost 0.57 percent.
With around 203,238 speakers, Hindi is the seventh most widely spoken non-English language in California. In total, they make up nearly 0.55 percent of the population.
An estimated 198,914 Californians speak Arabic. That gives them a population share of close to 0.54 percent.
In California, approximately 195,413 people speak Armenian. As a result, Armenian speakers make up nearly 0.53 percent of the population.
With about 170,508 speakers, Russian is the tenth most widely spoken language in California. Overall, Russian speakers make up an estimated 0.46 percent of the population.
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