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Who Are Limited English Speakers? An Overview of Limited English Proficient People in the United States.

May 30, 2013

1.8 million immigrants come to the United States each year and of these immigrants, 51% are Limited English Proficient.

In this blog post, we combined the most relevant statistics from The American Community Survey (ACS) conducted every year by the US Census Bureau. This information can help you better understand your Limited English Proficient (LEP) customers. As LEP populations continue to grow around the United States, Fortune 500 and similar organizations increasingly rely on Phone Interpretation services to communicate with their non-English speaking customers.

The History of the LEP Population Boom

In 1980, 23.1 million people spoke a language other than English at home, compared to 55.4 million people in 2007. That is a 140% increase, during which the US population grew 34%. The largest numeric increase was 23.4 million for Spanish speakers.  Vietnamese speakers had the largest percentage increase at 511%.

The Four Major Language Groups

The US Census Bureau grouped all the respondents of the survey into four major language groups:

  • Spanish
  • Other Indo-European languages
  • Asian and Pacific Island languages
  • All other languages

The ACS found that 55.4 million people spoke a language other than English at home. Of the 55.4 million people who spoke a language other than English at home, 62% spoke Spanish, 19% spoke an Other Indo-European language, 15% spoke an Asian and Pacific Island language, and 4% spoke an Other language. We would expect the percentage of Asian and Pacific Island languages to increase, based on recent changes in immigration patterns.

Around 24.5 million people reported their English speaking ability as something below “very well” (or as Limited English Proficient, “LEP”). Higher percentages of LEPs were present for speakers of Spanish (47 percent) and Asian and Pacific Island languages (49 percent) than among Other Indo-European languages or Other languages groups.

What is the Largest Age Group of this LEP Population?

The younger the person is, the more likely they are to speak a language other than English at home. 24% of survey respondents age 5-17 speak languages other than English at home compared to just 17% of the population ages 41-64.

Where is this LEP Population Located in the US?

Languages spoken at home are not evenly distributed throughout the nation; just 2% of
West Virginians 5 years old and over reported speaking a language other than English at home, while 43% of people in California reported the same.

The graph on the right shows the concentration of the LEP population for each state. There are many large states that require language assistance for your customers in order to be successful.


Voiance Language Services provides multilingual support in over 200 languages to business and government. Organizations use Voiance’s telephone interpretation to facilitate communication with customers. Voiance is a subsidiary of CyraCom International, Inc., the 2nd largest provider of Over-the-Phone Interpretation in the United States.