Linguistic Diversity in Lane County, Partie Deux

by Henry Fields

December 9, 2019

Previously we looked at the types of languages spoken and ability to speak English in Lane County. What do we know about the specific languages people speak here, and how it affects businesses?

First, let’s get a bit more specific with the languages we’re talking about. This chart shows the language spoken in households in Lane County with a bit more detail.
As mentioned in the last article, Spanish is far and away the most spoken language after English. Relative to the state we have a lower concentration of households speaking Spanish and Russian as well as some Asian languages such as Korean and Vietnamese.

Altogether there are more than 16,000 households speaking languages other than English, with Spanish representing about half of the total. Keep in mind that these numbers represent everyone living in a housing unit. The average household size in Lane County was around 2.5 people, meaning that the number of individuals from diverse linguistic backgrounds is significantly higher.

Another way that languages affect businesses is through customer relations. The Census asks a question on its Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs about the languages companies use to interact with customers. Although these data are only available for Oregon and Portland, it’s still an interesting window into how widespread different languages are and the economic impact of intercultural communication.
The table shows the number and percentage of employees who worked for a company that responded to the survey indicating the use of a different language. Since respondents could select multiple languages, most (99.3%) also work for companies that use English with customers.

An estimated 30 percent of Oregon employees worked at a company that uses Spanish for customer interactions. Since only about 9 percent of Oregon households use Spanish at home, and most of those have a strong command of English as well, you can see how the need to serve a broad range of customers creates a ripple effect throughout the workforce.

Notice how even relatively minor languages can add up to a big impact statewide – companies that do business in Poland or with Polish speakers have about 12,000 employees in Oregon. Although certainly not every employee at these companies needs to know Polish, facility with the language in customer-facing roles may be a significant asset for workers.

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