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The Languages Of Queens: Diversity Capital Of The World

How many languages are spoken in Queens? Enough to satisfy your travel bug without breaking the bank on airfare.

New York is a city of endless clichés, but it’s not entirely wrong to suggest that you get a lot of bang for your buck here in terms of diversity. The microcosm certainly reflects the macrocosm in this city of 8.5 million, where just about every language, culture, and creed is represented.

With as many as 800 languages spoken in the city — if you count many of the rather obscure or endangered tongues — New York really is the actualized Epcot of the world. But if you want to get granular about it, the borough of Queens is where it’s at. Queens holds the Guinness World Record for “most ethnically diverse urban area on the planet,” and it’s also the most linguistically diverse, with at least 138 languages spoken throughout the borough.

"The capital of linguistic diversity, not just for the five boroughs, but for the human species, is Queens," write Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro in their book Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas.

Queens language diversity From "Nonstop Metropolis" by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. Image via Business Insider. Click to enlarge.

In the map above, which is featured in the book, it’s possible to get a feel for what dozens of languages look like when they’re crammed together into a single borough. In the stretch of two or three miles that exists between Astoria and Woodside, for example, you can encounter Greek, Cretan, Breton, Danish, Norwegian, Portuguese, Croatian, Hungarian, Swedish, Turkish, Romanian, Armenian, Tagalog, Chavacano, Waray-Waray and Pangasinan. And we’re willing to bet you’d never heard of at least four of those.

Queens language diversity A closer look.

Indeed, there are more people who speak other languages in Queens than people who speak only English. According to 2015 Census data, 43.7% of the population aged 5 years or older spoke only English at home, whereas 56.3% spoke a language other than English.

For this reason and many more, we’re willing to go one step beyond our previous endorsement of New York City as a great place to learn languages. If an ethnically diverse, multinational and multilingual travel experience is what you’re after, Queens is your best bet for a deep cultural immersion that’s accessible on a domestic travel budget — and worth it for the food alone.

Queens, By The Numbers

An educational destination all around, Queens is arguably more instructive for some language learners than others.

Here are the most commonly spoken languages in Queens other than English, according to 2010 census data.

Language Number Of Speakers Percentage Of Total
Queens Population
Spanish 509,000 24%
Chinese 182,000 8.6%
Other Indian 82,400 3.9%
Korean 54,000 2.5%
Russian 35,200 1.7%
Tagalog 32,800 1.5%
Greek 30,700 1.4%
French Creole 30,300 1.4%
Italian 27,300 1.3%
Polish 24,600 1.2%
Hindi 19,400 0.9%
Urdu 19,100 0.9%
Other Asian 18,600 0.9%
Other Indo-European 17,700 0.8%
French 14,300 0.7%
Arabic 13,600 0.6%
African* 10,300 0.5%
Serbo-Croatian 9,498 0.4%
Hebrew 8,476 0.4%
Portuguese 8,117 0.4%

*Amharic, Ibo, Twi, Yoruba, Bantu, Swahili, Somali

America’s Runner-Up Polyglot Havens

Queens is certainly not the only place in the U.S. with a wide variety of languages on display. Here are the top metro areas for multilingualism, according to American Community Survey data collected from 2009 to 2013.

Metro Area Number Of Languages
Spoken At Home
Los Angeles 185
Washington 168
Seattle 166
Phoenix 166
San Francisco 163
Dallas 156
Chicago 153
Atlanta 146
Philadelphia 146
Houston 145
Riverside, Calif. 145
Boston 138
Miami 128
Detroit 126

Just make sure to brush up on your language skills before you go.

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