North America is home to a large number of English and Spanish speakers because of the legacy of colonization. Despite the it’s also a melting pot as, over time, immigrants from all over the world have moved to the continent and planted their roots. To get a better look at the linguistic diversity, we compiled a list of the 10 most spoken languages in North America (which differs quite a bit from the 10 most spoken languages in the world).
Getting exact data on language usage is difficult, because not every country collects language data in their census. These numbers include all speakers of each language, not just native speakers, and all of the data comes from Ethnologue. At the end, we also included a list of the most spoken indigenous languages in North America (after all, they were on the continent first).
With approximately 334 million speakers, English easily comes in at number one on the list of most spoken languages in North America. As you might expect, the largest number of English speakers live in the United States (297 million), followed by Canada (30 million), Mexico (6.8 million) and a sprinkling of speakers across the Central American countries and the islands of the Caribbean.
Spanish is the second most-spoken language in North America — again, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise. About 125 million Spanish speakers live in Mexico, which is actually home to more Spanish speakers than Spain. The United States has the second largest number of Spanish speakers (59.6 million), followed by Cuba (11.1 million), the Dominican Republic (10.4 million), the rest of the countries in Central America and a few of the Caribbean islands.
French comes in third on the list, but it has far fewer speakers than Spanish (approximately 18 million). The majority of French speakers in North America live in Canada (11 million) and Haiti (4.7 million). The United States is home to a little over 2 million francophones.
4. Chinese (all varieties)
In a distant fourth comes Chinese, which is a fairly broad macrolanguage umbrella that includes Mandarin, Hakka, Yue, Wu, Min Dong and other varieties. The vast majority of North American Chinese speakers live in the United States (2.9 million), and a sizable number live in Canada (1.7 million) and Mexico (31,000).
Tagalog, a language widely spoken in the Philippines, is the fifth most-spoken language in North America with about 2 million speakers. About 1.6 million of them live in the United States, where the language is one of the most-spoken languages. There are also about 431,000 Tagalog speakers in Canada.
The rest of the languages on this list are within a couple hundred thousand speakers of one another, and could easily switch positions in the near future (if they haven’t already). Coming in sixth is Vietnamese, which is spoken by about 1.5 million people in North America. The United States is home to just shy of 1.4 million of them, and most of the rest live in Canada (156,000).
Next up is German with about 1.3 million speakers in North America. Just over a million of them live in the United States. The rest of the North American German speakers live in Canada (384,000).
Coming in at number eight is Arabic, with about 1.3 million speakers in North America. With this language, the split is slightly more even between the United States and Canada. The United States is home to approximately 924,000 Arabic speakers, and about 420,000 live in Canada.
Korean is the ninth most spoken language in North America, with about 1.2 million speakers. The majority of these speakers live in the United States (1.1 million), and the remaining North American Korean speakers live in Canada (153,000).
Last, but certainly not least, is Italian. About a million Italian speakers live in North America: 709,000 in the United States and 376,000 in Canada. The U.S. states with the largest number of native Italian speakers are New York and New Jersey.
10 Most Spoken Indigenous Languages In North America
- Nahuatl (Mexico) — 2 million speakers
- Mayan languages (Mexico) — 1.5 million speakers
- Zapotec (Mexico) — 400,000 speakers
- Mixtec (Mexico) — 400,000 speakers
- Mazahua (Mexico) — 350,000 speakers
- Totonac (Mexico) — 250,000 speakers
- Otomi (Mexico) — 250,000 speakers
- Mazatec (Mexico) — 175,000 speakers
- Navajo (Southwestern U.S.) — 150,000 speakers
- Tlapanec (Mexico) — 120,000 speakers
The most spoken indigenous language in Canada is Cree, with 80,000 speakers.
Note: Indigenous language data comes from Native Languages of the Americas.
This article was originally published on January 26, 2019. It has been updated to reflect more recent data.