Linguistic Diversity in Lane County, Parte Uno

by Henry Fields

September 26, 2019

Speaking a language other than English isn’t as rare as you might think in Lane County. About 30,000 people over the age of five speak a different language in the home, accounting for about 9 percent of the population. Nearly 70 percent of them also speak English very well.

Knowing more about our linguistically diverse neighbors can help us understand our workforce, customer base, and the rich tapestry that makes up our community.
This graph shows the number of people that speak one of four language types in Lane County. Each language category is broken out by whether that person can also speak English “very well” or not.

About 17,000 people speak Spanish at home in Lane County. Nearly 70 percent of them estimate that they speak English very well, which is higher than the U.S., where about 60 percent of Spanish speakers say they speak English very well.

About 5,000 people speak another Indo-European language besides Spanish or English. This broad language family includes western European languages like German and Italian but also distant cousins like Armenian, Russian, Farsi (the most-spoken language of Iran), and Hindi. Those who speak other Indo-European languages are more likely to rate their English highly, both than other language categories as well as in comparison to the US. This could be because the local languages we have represented here have greater similarities to English, or perhaps the families of international students and scholars at the University of Oregon, which are more likely to have studied English, play some role.

Around 6,500 speak Asian and Pacific Island languages, another very broad category. Included are all types of Chinese languages, Tagalog (a major language of the Philippines), Japanese, Korean, and Samoan, among many others. In general, Asian and Pacific Island language speakers do not rate their English-speaking ability highly – around 45 percent say they speak English less than very well. There are likely a number of reasons for this, but a contributing factor is certainly how distinct these languages are from English. While English is difficult to learn for German or Spanish speakers, they can rely on certain linguistic similarities and the same alphabet to assist their learning, which most Asian language speakers cannot.

Finally, around 1,000 people speak some other language. That could include a dialect of Arabic, a language of the Indigenous peoples of North or South America, or an African language such as Amharic, a language of Ethiopia. Around 75 percent of other language speakers rate their English at the highest level.

While this data is helpful, the language categories are too broad to answer specific questions. For example, if your business wants to translate marketing materials into Korean, you might want to know how many “Asian and Pacific Island language” speakers speak Korean rather than an unrelated language like Chinese or Vietnamese.

In part two of this series, we’ll look into household data on particular languages to find answer to these questions and more.


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