Learning any foreign language will reap numerous benefits — professionally, socially, and even physiologically — but it goes without saying that a huge plus to learning a new language is having ample opportunity to use it. When considering what foreign language to study, it’s helpful to keep in mind the most common languages spoken in the United States.
This week, we’ll share the top ten foreign languages spoken in the U.S. in three installments, working up to the most common foreign language in the country. For each language, we’ll look at the industries in which knowledge of that language may prove especially useful and note the U.S. cities or regions in which it is particularly prominent. To kick us off, let’s explore numbers 8, 9, and 10 on our list:
Over 15 million Americans identify as Italian-American, but less than a million speak the Italian language. Even so, it remains among the top five languages taught in public schools across the country and is one of the largest ethnic markets in America. The vast majority of Italian speakers are found in New York and New Jersey, where immigrant communities have historically clustered. Learning Italian can be particularly helpful if you work in, or hope to break into, the fashion, automotive, or restaurant services industries.
Just shy of one million Americans speak Russian, in large part due to migrations following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The number of Russian-Americans has more than doubled since 1980, and Russian speakers are found predominantly on the coasts, with the largest communities based in California and New York. Russia and former Soviet Union nations remain global leaders in aerospace, engineering, and information technology, and studying Russian can be a tremendous asset for leaders invested in those fields.
According to the most recent census, there are a million speakers of Arabic in the U.S. — and that number is increasing rapidly. At present, the vast majority of Arab-Americans are of Lebanese heritage, and the largest community is centered in the Detroit metropolitan area, where 40% of the population is Arab-American. Arabic is also the fastest-growing foreign language program offered by colleges and universities across the country. Those interested in natural resource management, the oil and gas industry, and security studies may find particular incentive to learn the Arabic language.
Both Russian and Arabic are designated as critical foreign languages — non-Western European languages deemed vital for national security — by the U.S. Department of State. The State Department and several other government agencies offer competitive scholarship and exchange programs for continued study of these critical languages and cultures that can boost career prospects, especially for those in government and intelligence fields.
Check back tomorrow for the second installment covering the top ten most commonly spoken foreign languages in the United States. (Teaser: German is up next!)