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Nearly 18 Million Californians Speak a Language Other Than English at Home

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

Roughly 17.5 million (44.2%) of California’s population speak a language other than English at home. Nearly seven million Californians (19%) reported speaking English “less than very well and are considered Limited English proficient (LEP). The national figure is even greater at 71 million, which is equivalent to 21.6 percent of the overall U.S. population. All figures are based on the most recent 2019 Census estimates.

Research indicates diversity is a strong predictor of economic development. Diversity is said to foster creativity and promote the quest for novel information and perspectives, and lead to better decision making and problem solving. Diversity drives innovation and changes the way we think. How does California manage and leverage its diversity? What are the challenges of coordinating consistent language access for a large diverse state such as California?

LEPs face stigma, discrimination, and systemic social disadvantages. LEPs can be both U.S. and foreign-born. It is not uncommon for LEPs to speak some English but lack sufficient fluency to understand, speak, read, or write in English to take care of official business. Being unable to communicate freely can have negative consequences. A 2020 study in the Annals of Epidemiology found that COVID-19 diagnoses were associated with counties with greater monolingual Spanish speakers and also emphasized that occupational exposure plays a vital role in Latino COVID-19 cases and deaths.

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