Languages Spoken: California’s linguistic diversity is an asset, creating opportunities for communities to connect and illustrating the state’s ties to the world.

Each indicator page features a series of charts, insights and analysis, case studies, and related indicators.

Insights and Analyses

  • In 2021, across California, 95% of Latino immigrants, 89% of Asian American immigrants, 84% of Pacific Islander immigrants, 74% of Mixed/other immigrants, 69% of white immigrants, 63% of Black immigrants, and 63% of Native American immigrants ages 5 or older, spoke a language other than English at home.
  • In 2021, among the immigrant population ages 5 or older in California, the top ten languages spoken were Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Filipino/Tagalog, Vietnamese, Korean, Arabic, Hindi, and Persian/Iranian/Farsi.
  • Providing targeted interpretation and translation services to California’s diverse immigrant communities is critical in ensuring language justice. Across the state, in 2021, among Latino immigrant headed households 27% were linguistically isolated. Followed by, 25% of Asian American immigrant households, 16% of Mixed/other households, 16% of white immigrant households, 10% of Black immigrant households, and 6% of Pacific Islander immigrant households.
  • In 2018, across Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, Spanish, Mixteco, Tagalog, Arabic, Mandarin, and Vietnamese were among the top non-English languages spoken.
  • Although, Californians speak numerous languages, there have been multiple efforts to resist multilingualism including passing English-only legislation and attempting to enact variations of English-only policies at the local level. In 1998, the state voted in favor of Proposition 227 that made English-only instruction a requirement. However by 2016, a majority of California voters approved Proposition 58, enacting the California Multilingual Education Act that overturned the English-only requirement and granted public schools more authority over implementing dual immersion programs.
  • Monterey Park is one of the localities throughout California that has a history of attempts to pass ordinances that enforce English requirements. In 1980, a few Monterey Park city council members attempted to establish English as the city’s official language. Then, in 2013, the city once again faced a similar challenge as the city council debated adopting a revised version of a previous code that would have required storefront signage to include some form of “modern Latin lettering.” The ordinance was ultimately dismissed due to advocacy on behalf of groups such as Asian Americans Advancing Justice. 
  • Comunidades Indigenas en Liderazgo (CIELO) began collecting and reporting data on Indigenous migrants in Los Angeles County through their Undocu-Indigenous Fund, a program started in April 2020 in response to COVID-19. Their data collection efforts showed that the 11,000 fund recipients come from more than 30 distinct Indigenous communities in Mexico and Central America and speak over 17 different languages from 5 different language groups, including Zapoteco, Chinanteco, K’iche’, Ayuujk, and Q’anjob’al.
  • During the 2021-2022 school year, data from the California Department of Education on English learners showed that approximately 40% of students (or about 2.4 million students) enrolled in public schools, spoke a language other than English at home. Among this pool of students, 93% speak one of the following languages: Spanish, Vietnamese, Mandarin, Arabic, Cantonese, Filipino (Tagalog and other Pilipino languages), Punjabi, Russian, Farsi, and Korean. Yet, in total, data reveals there are 88 language groups spoken by English learners.
  • Across all different age groups, during the 2015-2019 period, California was the state with the highest number of Dual Language Learners (DLL), or children with at least one parent that speaks a language besides English at home. Among children ages 0 to 8, 60% (or 2,547,000) were DLLs.
  • Even though DLL children stand to benefit from quality early childhood education and care (ECEC) programs, they are less likely to enroll in these programs, as compared to non-DLL children. A demographic profile of the DLL population across the U.S. identifies factors, such as household income, that can impact access to quality ECEC programs for DLLs and their families.
  • Migration Policy Institute estimates that during the 2015-2019 period, about 49% of DLL children ages 0-8 in California, live in low-income households.
  • A 2021 survey of 125 immigrant-serving organizations across the U.S., assessed their capacity to provide resources in the languages spoken by the refugee and immigrant families they service. The results showed that the top five languages spoken among families receiving services were Spanish, Arabic, French, Chinese, and Vietnamese. About 60% of those organizations also noted they serve families that speak other languages, including Armenian, Creole, Nepali, and many others. Yet, many organizations did not have the capacity to provide services in those languages. For example, 42% of organizations reported that they served Arabic speaking families, but only 23% provided services in Arabic.
  • In 2015, San Francisco codified a first-of-its-kind Language Access Ordinance (LAO) into law, instructing all public-serving departments of the City and County of San Francisco to provide services in languages other than English when there is a sizable share of Limited-English proficient (LEP) residents. An assessment by the Language Access Network of San Francisco highlighted areas where the LAO is falling short of providing equitable and quality services to LEP residents. Among other findings, the report highlights that there is insufficient enforcement and monitoring to ensure compliance, as well as insufficient services for those who are most linguistically marginalized. The recommendations provided in the report include strengthening compliance and accountability measures and including a human-centered design approach to include community voices.

Comunidades Indígenas en Liderazgo (CIELO) is an Indigenous woman-led organization collecting data on Indigenous migrants to visibilize their existence and diversity throughout the Los Angeles region. 

Founded in 2016, CIELO provides language revitalization, economic solidarity, and COVID-19 vaccine outreach to Indigenous migrant communities. Indigenous migrants face unique social, economic, and cultural challenges, yet they are often invisibilized in the immigrant rights narrative because they are typically excluded from data collection efforts or lumped into the broad Latino category. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, CIELO started the Undocumented Indigenous Fund, a fund to support undocumented indigenous migrants in Los Angeles. As of January 2021, CIELO has distributed $2.2 million in pandemic relief funds. Additionally, through this fund, CIELO collected a data sample, capturing the existence and diversity of Indigenous migrants in the Los Angeles region through a story map titled, “We Are Here: Indigenous Diaspora in Los Angeles.” This data sample revealed that nearly 11,000 individuals come from 30 distinct Indigenous communities throughout Mexico and Central America. Over half of respondents indicated that their preferred language was a language other than, or in addition to, English or Spanish. This included over 20 different languages from five different language groups, such as Zapoteco, Chinanteco, K’iche’, and Ayuujk. The story map emphasizes the need for public institutions like the L.A. Unified School District, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, L.A. County Department of Health Services, and the Los Angeles Superior Court, to take the necessary steps to provide translation services in the most commonly spoken Indigenous languages. One example of a resource CIELO has developed is the “Indigenous Language Identification Card” aimed at ensuring that entities like LAPD can connect individuals with adequate interpretation services. The data collected by CIELO illustrates the dire need to provide interpretation and translation services to reduce barriers that often impede Indigenous migrants from accessing basic, yet vital resources. As highlighted by CIELO, engaging in language justice for the region’s Indigenous migrants is critical in creating a more welcoming environment for the most marginalized communities. Beyond the L.A. region, there is a dire need for adequate translation services for Indigenous migrants arriving at the border and those navigating immigration court proceedings. To learn more about CIELO visit their site here and access their story map here. Read about CIELO’s work in the L.A. Times here. To learn more about the linguistic barriers indigenous migrants face at the border read an article by The New Yorker here.

Global California 2030 is an initiative that aims to prepare students with the language skills to participate in the global economy and create a multilingual California.

Research suggests that bilingualism is an asset, pointing to benefits like meeting the demand for a multilingual workforce, economic benefits, and cognitive development. In 2016, Proposition 58 was approved by voters, removing barriers to implementing dual-language programs. Interest from California voters in these programs continued to grow since Proposition 58, which led to the creation of the Global California 2030 initiative. This initiative sets forth numerous goals to ensure a path to a multilingual state. For example, by 2030, Global California aims to enroll 50% of all K-12 students in programs that prepare them to be proficient in at least two languages. Moreover, by 2040, the goal is that 75% of students in K-12 become proficient in at least two languages to obtain a State Seal of Biliteracy. To meet these goals, the initiative also aims to significantly increase the number of bilingual instructors to 2,000 by 2030. Yet, obstacles to achieving the goals of the initiative persist such as the COVID-19 pandemic and teacher shortages. After they were forced to shift their priorities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2021, schools began to re-visit their plans to expand bilingual programs. For example, EdSource’s article noted that while Los Angeles Unified School District was able to open its first dual immersion program in Japanese in 2021, the launch of a new Filipino dual immersion program in the district would have to be postponed due to the pandemic. In addition, advocates like Californians Together are calling for more investments to grow the bilingual teacher pipeline and address teacher shortages to ensure the goals of Global California can be met. To learn more about Global California 2030, read the California Department of Education’s report here. Read a fact sheet by the California Budget and Policy Center (CBPC) on the importance of supporting bilingualism here.

Photo Credit: California Department of Education

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