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Minnesotans speak more than 100 languages at home, new data finds

The data released by the Census Bureau provides the most detailed, up-to-date information available on languages spoken in the U.S.

French. Tagalog. Arabic.

Those are just a few of the more than 100 languages — besides English — spoken in Minnesota homes, a U.S. Census Bureau data release Tuesday finds.

Those languages include German, Russian and Chinese as well as Native American languages such as Ojibwa, Menomini and Dakota.

Languages other than English spoken at home in Minnesota
In Minnesota, about 500,000 of the state’s 5 million residents speak a language other than English at home. Of those, a plurality — almost 200,000 — speak Spanish. Behind Spanish are Hmong and Cushite (a language family that includes Oromo and Somali), followed by German, with more than 24,000 speakers.

* Includes Oromo, Somali, Sidamo and other East African languages.

** Includes Cantonese, Mandarin and other Chinese languages.

*** Includes Patois and Cajun.

After English and Spanish, Asian and Pacific Islander languages are the most widely spoken ones in Minnesota homes. In Ramsey County, more than 28,700 people speak Hmong, the most spoken language (other than English) in the county, followed by Spanish, 25,290. Other languages spoken there include Swahili, Finnish and Hebrew.

The study, which is based on American Community Survey data collected from 2009-2013, also highlighted lesser-known languages spoken by thousands of Minnesotans: Tamil, Bisayan, Krio, Czech and many others.

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Andi Egbert, assistant director of the MN State Demographic Center, said her team intends to spread the word so community-serving organizations know about the new data resource.

“Without having data, specifically about language, we don’t know how to best reach out to people in a language that’s most comfortable to them,” Egbert said. “We’re just so delighted that much more detailed data has been released.”

Egbert explained that she isn’t surprised that there is so much richness of language in Hennepin, Dakota and Ramsey counties: “They’re gateways for people arriving from places all around the world. They’re the most rich and the most diverse in culture.”

Languages in schools

In Minneapolis schools, 75 percent of classrooms have at least one student who speaks a language other than English, according to data from the Minneapolis Public Schools. In addition, 100 percent of MPS teachers will have students for whom English isn’t their first language over the course of their careers.

The report continued: “As of Spring 2014, almost 4,000 Minneapolis Public Schools students were born outside the United States in one of 114 different countries around the world.”

“We are preparing all of our students to be global citizens,” said Elia Bruggeman, the Deputy Education Officer at Minneapolis Public Schools. “It’s great to have new data focusing on languages spoken in our state.”

Having multiple languages is an asset that helps students reach their highest potential, said Muhidin Warfa, head of MPS’ Multilingual Department, in an e-mail.

"We are proud that MPS families and students speak over 100 languages,” added Warfa, who also speaks Swahili and Somali. “We know the cultural and linguistic diversity of our kids is one of their — and our — greatest strengths.”

In total, the Census Bureau report stated, at least 350 languages are spoken in the United States.

“While most of the U.S. population speaks only English at home or a handful of other languages like Spanish or Vietnamese, the [data] reveals the wide-ranging language diversity of the United States,” Erik Vickstrom, a Census Bureau statistician, said in a statement.

Vickstrom added: “Knowing the number of languages and how many speak these languages in a particular area provides valuable information to policymakers, planners and researchers.”

The report listed more than 120 languages spoken in Minnesota, though the list doesn’t show specific numbers for dozens of those languages. Those numbers in the data were withheld because researchers didn’t want to put forth information that might not be accurate or that might draw poor conclusions, Egbert explained.

“When there are very small numbers of people, the data is more unreadable,” she added. “It has a big margin of error.”

Ibrahim Hirsi can be reached at ihirsi@minnpost.com. Follow him on Twitter at @IHirsi