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

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.

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 Follow him on Twitter at @IHirsi

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Jeffrey McIntyre on 11/05/2015 - 03:42 pm.

    Other than English

    I always find it amusing when folks get upset when they hear someone speaking other than english. My sister in law grew up in northwestern Mn, language at home was Finish…most the town spoke it. Same for a friend who grew up in New Ulm (German there)…get over it,

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/06/2015 - 10:28 am.

      Other than English

      Check out an old (early 20th century) Minnesota Legislative Manual sometime. There are lists of all the newspapers in the state, with the language they were published in. I think there were four or five Swedish newspapers in Hennepin County, three or four Norwegian, also papers in German, Danish, Finnish, etc. There were similar numbers of non-English papers in Ramsey County.

  2. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 11/05/2015 - 07:21 pm.

    Ever since the first non-English-speaking immigrants

    came in the 18th century, the pattern has been the same.

    Those who come here as adults either never learn English or learn it poorly, unless they studied it in school in the Old Country. The older they are when they come, the more likely they are to have no or minimal English skills.

    By the way, these people are not “refusing” to learn English. They may be too old to learn it well, or they may be working two jobs and/or busy with housework and childcare and have no time to study.

    Immigrants who were teenagers or younger when they came or who were born here to parents from the Old Country end up bilingual. They speak the Old Country language at home and learn English by associating with the wider society in school and elsewhere. Quite often, they prefer to speak English with other young immigrants and/or answer in English when their parents speak to them in the Old Country language.

    The grandchildren of the immigrants are almost always English-dominant. For one thing, even though immigrants tend to want their children to marry someone with an Old Country background, hormones know no nationality, and a certain percentage of the children grow up to marry someone from outside their ethnic group. Even when I lived in a small town in Oregon with a large Latino population, I often heard parents speaking Spanish to children who then answered in English, and I noticed a large number of Latino-Anglo couples among the youth. If any of those couples ended up getting married, it is almost certain that the language of their household is English.

    Even if the marriages stay within the ethnic group, children and young people’s desire to fit in with the majority leads the third generation to prefer English over the Old Country language.

    About 1/3 of the population of Hawaii is of Japanese descent. One one visit, I heard a third-generation Japanese-American woman say that when she was a little girl, she thought that speaking Japanese was something that naturally happened as one got older, because in her community, the older people were, the more Japanese they spoke.

    Many of the people who are complaining about Spanish speakers now may not know that in the 19th century, German was the dominant immigrant language. There was no TV or radio, of course, but every large city in the East and Midwest had German newspapers, German-language churches, German social clubs, even bilingual schools. My grandmother, born in 1899 in North Minneapolis to immigrant parents, told me that when she was younger, it was easy to live in that neighborhood without speaking English, because all the storekeepers either were German or hired German speaking staff.

    Anti-German hysteria in World War I put a sudden stop to that, but to see what happens when developments in an immigrant community are not disrupted, we need only look at what happened with Yiddish in New York City. There was a huge Jewish migration to New York City around 1900, and even in the 1930s, Yiddish was widely spoken enough that Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia owed part of his popularity to his ability to make speeches in Italian and Yiddish, as well as in English.

    If you go to New York today and look for Yiddish speakers, you will find them, mostly in the closed-off Hasidic communities, but for the overwhelming majority of Jews, English is their first language, and Yiddish remains only in a few dozen words and expressions.

    So when I hear a Latino woman speaking Spanish to her children in the grocery store, it’s no big deal. Her grandchildren will almost certainly have English as their first language.

  3. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/06/2015 - 10:26 am.

    General Pattern

    Linguists have found that immigrants (not just in the US, but worldwide) tend to keep speaking their native language as long as possible, and as much as possible. Their children speak their parents’ language at home, preferring the “new” country’s tongue everywhere else. The grandchildren of the immigrants do not speak their grandparents’ language unless they learn it for cultural or educational purposes.

  4. Submitted by Kurt Nelson on 11/06/2015 - 11:39 am.


    can speak their own language at home, but they had better not at Applebees.

  5. Submitted by Barbara Lofquist on 11/08/2015 - 11:55 am.

    The Tower of Babel

    Language is what unites us as Americans. Too many millions of tax dollars are spent on free translation services. I would like to see volunteers from the community of non-English speakers doing the translation rather than taxpayers providing it.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/09/2015 - 10:55 am.


      What is the official language of the United States?

      How many states recognize languages other than English as official for some or all purposes?

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 11/11/2015 - 06:45 pm.

      I’m a professional translator, and translation is not something

      that just any bilingual person can do. To translate from Japanese to English, my language pair, you need a thorough knowledge of Japanese (I can read novels and news magazines in Japanese and could live in Japan as an adult, functioning only in that language), expertise in a few subjects (most translators specialize), and excellent English writing skills. Even among Spanish speakers, that skill set is less common than you might think.

      Being an interpreter is a different skill set entirely. You not only need a thorough knowledge of both languages and the subject area in which you are interpreting, but you have to be able to think on your feet and “change channels” quickly. This is especially true in the medical area. Being a medical interpreter is a specialty that requires certification in many states. That is, the interpreter has to prove knowledge of basic medical practice and terminology. Court interpreters also have to have a detailed knowledge of any words that might come up in the trial. Mistrials have been declared after it was proved that an incompetent interpreter was used.

      That’s why they translators (written) and interpreters (spoken) cost money.

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