Language Diversity in America: How Seattle Stacks Up

An infographic excerpt maps languages other than English spoken in U.S. states. See the full infographic here
An infographic excerpt maps languages other than English spoken in U.S. states. See the full infographic here. (Map has been modified to correctly label Washington state. Infographic via FreePeopleSearch.org)

An infographic released by freepeoplesearch.org shows the diversity of languages spoken throughout the U.S., but how does Seattle compare on a national level?

According to the infographic, Washington is the third most linguistically diverse state in America with 163 languages spoken. (Also according to the chart, the states of Washington and Oregon have switched places.)

But geographical mishaps aside, the infographic shows how the use of languages other than English is steadily trending upwards.

In King County alone, the percentage of people who speak languages besides English rose from 18.4% in 2000 to 25.4% in 2011. This can be largely attributed to Seattle’s burgeoning immigrant communities, in 2008 the largest group was 70,064 immigrants from Southeast Asia.

King County Demographics data shows a rise in local speakers of another language.
Census data shows a rise in local speakers of another language. (Chart via King County Demographics)

Spanish is still the most widely spoken language besides English in the Seattle area with Chinese in second place, paralleling the national data.

However Seattle splits from the national demographic data in the percentage of Somali and Amharic speakers who live in the area.

Major languages spoken in King County via King County Demographics
Major languages spoken in King County. (Chart via King County Demographics)

The Somali community in Seattle has grown rapidly over the past 20 years due to thousands of refugees from Somalia’s civil war being resettled in the area.

Somali children have even become the second largest bilingual group in the Seattle Public School district. Somali clan distinctions, which played a major role in igniting the country’s civil war, reportedly became an insignificant factor for immigrants to Seattle.

Hannah Dinan, a volunteer for Seattle’s East African Community Services who helps immigrants prepare for the U.S. citizenship exam, said that the groups she works with are mostly Somali.

She explained how many of them have lived in the states for years but have avoided the census because they can’t read it or because of mistrust of the government. This means the actual number of Somalis in King County is likely even higher than the official report.

“Seattle has a huge amount of immigrants from Somalia, Ethiopia and elsewhere that are often excluded from demographic figures,” said Dinan, “but here we try to create an environment where it’s safe to come forward as part of any ethnic group.”

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8 Comments

  1. This is an otherwise good article betrayed by that top graphic with WA and OR switched around. Can’t share it out or advocate if it makes it look like I don’t know where Seattle is.

  2. Hey folks, we just couldn’t take it any more and fixed that puppy ourselves! Map has been corrected and all other census data checks out.

    Sara McCaslin
    Editor

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