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California: The Changing Multilingual Market

Dec 12, 2012



Language usage trends reveal the shifting demographics and emerging prominence of minority groups in the United States.  As the most populous US state, California is a prime example of these language trends. A 2008 report by the Asian Pacific American Legal Center reveals some of these interesting language trends in California:

  • 26% of the population was born outside the US.
  •  Almost 40% speak a primary language other than English at home.
  • 8 million residents, over a quarter of the state’s population, speak Spanish.
  • Close to 3 million speak an Asian or Pacific Islander language. (2)
  • In Los Angeles County, the state’s largest, an astounding 54% of residents spoke a language other than English at home. (3)

To garner further insight in the language trends within California, Voiance Language Services collected data from hundreds of organizations that serve the local California population

“California is the primary destination of new immigrants and refugees from all corners of the globe.” – Asian Pacific American Legal Center


In 2011 and 2012, Spanish calls comprised over 60% of all California calls handled by our organization in both 2011 and 2012, and have been relatively static.

Asian immigration to the US has outpaced that of other groups, overtaking Latinos in 2012 according to a June 2012 Pew Research study. Underscoring the growing strength of the Asian American market, Asian Americans are projected to reach $1 trillion in purchasing power by 2017.

The rise and prominence of Asian languages highlight the rapid shifts in California’s population.  Asian languages made up 16 of the top 20 languages most in demand in California in both 2011 and 2012. Vietnamese and Mandarin ranked second and third in languages demanded. Korean overtook Cantonese in 2012 to become fourth in demand, and Arabic surpassed Farsi and Armenian in demand, ranking seventh.

California’s Top Requested Languages in 2012

  1. Spanish

  2. Vietnamese

  3. Mandarin

  4. Korean

  5. Russian

  6. Cantonese

  7. Arabic

  8. Farsi

  9. Armenian

  10. Punjabi

  11. Cambodian

  12. Tagalog

  13. Hmong

  14. Mixteco

  15. Somali

  16. Japanese

  17. Lao

  18. Hindi

  19. Burmese

  20. Romanian


Of California’s top requested languages, the increased demand for Somali represents one of the most notable changes, jumping from 24th place in 2011 to 15th in 2012. One can see another significant trend in the large increase of the number of Tagalog calls – Tagalog ranked 14th in interpreter demand in 2011, and moved to 12th a year later in 2012, showing a growth in the state’s Filipino demographic. Romanian also moved into the top 20, ranking 23rd in 2011 and 20th in 2012.


We can see these overall trends reflected in specific areas of the state to date:

  • Cambodian ranked second in demand and Lao ranked third in Modesto for the first time, moving up in the top ten languages
  • In east San Jose, Korean became the 4th most demanded language, moving into the top 10 for the first time
  • Usage of Mandarin surpassed that of Arabic to become second in demand in San Bernardino County


A 2011 American Community Survey showed that nearly 20.8% of the US population spoke a language other than English at home, and that 9% of the total US population had limited English proficiency. The same survey also found many European languages being replaced by Asian languages.


About Voiance

Voiance is a subsidiary of CyraCom International, Inc. Our organization is the 2nd largest provider of telephonic interpretation services in the world with exclusively US-based contact centers. We have more than 2500 customers in all 50 states and Canada. Our organization has also been named to the Inc 5000 list of fastest growing companies in 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. We remain a profitable, growing enterprise with strong leadership and an impressive list of Fortune 500 clients.Voiance Language Services provides interpretation and document translation services for over 200 languages, supporting clientele in business and government and helping thousands of non-English speakers communicate on a daily basis. 


Works Cited

Dougherty, Conor. “US Moves Closer to Minority Majority.” The Wall Street Journal, 31 Aug. 2011. Web. 20 June 2012. <>.

Ichinose, Daniel K., Alice Chen, Gem Daus, Rowena Tran, and Karin Wang. “California Speaks: Language Diversity and English Proficiency by Legislative District.” Asian Pacific American Legal Center, Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, n.d. Web. 11 July 2012.  <>.

Ichinose, Daniel K., Wingshan Lo, Sara Sadhwani, Karin Wang, and Nancy W. Yu. “LA Speaks: Language Diversity and English Proficiency.” Asian Pacific American Legal Center, n.d. Web. 20 June 2012. <>.

Lambert, Lisa. “Number of ‘majority Minority’ US Cities Grows-Brookings.” Reuters, 31 Aug. 2011. Web. 20 June 2012. <>.

Penny, Thomas. “US White Population Will Be Minority by 2042, Government Says.” Bloomberg, 14 Aug. 2008. Web. 20 June 2012. <>.

Roper Public Affairs. Talking With Thought Leaders About Increasing Diversity: Issues and Opportunities with Providing Health Care. N.p.: CyraCom International, 2006. Print.

United States. Census Bureau. American Community Survey. Language Use in the United States: 2007. N.p., 1 Apr. 2010. Web. 20 June 2012. <>.

United States. Department of Homeland Security. Office of Immigration Statistics. 2010 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics. N.p., 1 Aug. 2011. Web. 20 June 2012.