75% of Americans have no second language

July 31, 2013, 5:54 PM GMT+0

Three-quarters of Americans speak only their mother tongue, with no second language, a YouGov survey into language ability has found.

Despite the majority of Americans being monolingual, 43% of the nation feels it is important to learn as many languages as possible.

As people’s professional and social lives in the US are dominated by the English language, and online translations allow English speakers to get the gist of a foreign text, it isperhaps not surprising that 28% of Americans feel it is unnecessary to know a second language because most people they know speak English.

Another 13% said that Americans should gain basic knowledge of a second language to use if they go on vacation. Learning a second language was only deemed important if it is a major world language for 15% of the population.

Even President Obama is among the majority – Obama admitted to not being fluent in a second language, but has spoken about the importance of multilingualism to improving individual job prospects and boosting America’s international links.

Whether it’s Chinese, important for the future of global trade, Spanish, the second most widely spoken language in the US, or even Latin, a language important for cultural and historical studies – most Americans feel it is important to at least have a basic grasp of another language.

The vast majority of American school students undertake language learning. The Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL), which surveys language learning every ten years, found that 58% of middle schools offer a foreign language course, while 15% of primary schools do. The share of high schools offering a foreign language course is relatively high at 91%, with Spanish being the most commonly taught foreign language.

With the US sharing a border with Spanish speakers to the south and French to the north, it’s not surprising that these two Romance languages are the most commonly spoken in North America. 6% of the country said they were fluent in Latin, indicating study of the ancient language remains popular.

There are around 6,800 languages being spoken today, with the most common languages in the world being Mandarin Chinese, English, Spanish and Arabic. Other less-polled second languages (excepting English) spoken by respondents include Romanian, Norwegian, Cantonese, Croatian, Hindi Turkish, Irish and American Sign Language.

For further information about poll results, and for details about methodology and Omnibus research services, please email omnibus.us@yougov.com.

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