Northern California’s Top 5 Languages (After English)

Anthropologist and linguist Edward Sapir wrote in 1929 that, “In the state of California alone, there are greater and more numerous linguistics extremes than can be illustrated in all the length and breadth of Europe.” You could even narrow that down to Northern California—or just San Francisco, where 112 languages are spoken. And while each of these languages has a unique history and culture, let’s take a look at the five most widely spoken ones in NorCal.


  1. Spanish


It should come as no surprise that Spanish takes the number one spot. With over 10.6 million speakers state-wide[i], 28.5% of the Golden State’s population communicates in Spanish. In Northern California, the agricultural countries of the San Joaquin Valley and the San Fernando Valley are home to the majority[ii].


  1. Chinese (Including Cantonese and Mandarin)


Chinese speakers make up 2.8% of the state’s population, with over 1.2 million speakers state-wide.1 Most Chinese speaking NorCal residents live in the Bay area—primarily in San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties.2


  1. Tagalog


An estimated 2.2% of California residents speak Tagalog, a language native to the Philippines. The majority of the roughly 796,000 speakers live in Southern California, but the San Francisco Bay area also boasts a thriving community.2


  1. Vietnamese


Did you know San Jose is home to the largest percentage of Vietnamese speakers outside of Vietnam? With around 559,000 residents, Vietnamese speakers make up 1.43% of California’s population, most of whom live in Northern California.2


  1. Korean


Korean rounds out the top 5 languages with around 368,000 speakers state-wide. Korean speakers make up about 1.08% of California’s population. The largest communities are in Orange and Los Angeles counties, but about 1.3% of San Jose residents and 1.1% of San Francisco residents identify as Korean.[iii]


Honorable Mention


Persian, Japanese, Russian, and Armenian round out the top 10 most commonly spoken languages (along with English) in NorCal. The first three are primarily spoken in the Bay area, while Fresno is home to a large Armenian community.


A Note on Native American Languages

Although the state’s pre-colonial indigenous communities spoke over 80 different languages, the vast majority are now either extinct or severely endangered. Languages such as Karuk, Hupa, and Yurok, which were once common in Northern California, now only have about a dozen speakers.[iv] Chukchansi and Luiseño are also native to the region, and languages from larger groupings such as Athabascan, Algic, and Uto-Aztecan are spoken in small numbers. The San Francisco area has a small number of Navajo speakers as well.


Yet despite the shrinking number of speakers, organizations such as Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival are working to keep these languages alive through education and community building.


Language Support from Boostlingo


As you can see, Northern California’s linguistic diversity spans across urban, suburban, and rural areas of the region. While each of these communities add to the state’s unique culture, language differences can also pose barriers to communication.


Fortunately, Boostlingo makes it easy to access interpreters for over 200 languages. Our interpretation platform let’s you schedule an onsite interpreter or connect with an over-the-phone or video remote interpreter in minutes.


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