Listening Topic: Language and Communication – Lecture about other languages in the United States

A. Listen to a lecture. The choose the best summary.

The lecture is about ____.

      a   the number of different languages used in the United States

      b   data about language use in the United States and how it might be used

      c   why it’s important to look at language use in the United States

B. Listen to the lecture again, and answer the questions.

 How many languages does the Modern Language Association focus on?

 Where did the data come from?

 Put these languages in order from the most common to the least common in the United States (1 = most common, 4 = least common):

___ a   Spanish

___ b   French

___ c   English

___ d   Chinese

4   How many people speak Korean in the United States?

5   In what two areas do the majority of Korean speakers live?

6   Are more languages spoken in Texas or New York?





1   The thirty most common languages in the US

2   From census data

3   a. 2   b. 4   c. 1   d. 3

4   Almost 900,000

5   Southern California and Washington state

6   New York


A = Lecturer, B = Audience Member 1, C = Audience Member 2

A:   Good afternoon, today’s lecture is about different languages spoken in the United States. The Modern Language Association has put together data on the numbers of speakers and the locations of the thirty most commonly spoken languages in the United States.

Let me first explain how the information was gathered. The data came from U.S. census information. In addition to the usual census questions about number of family members and age, people were asked about language – if a language other than English was spoken at home. If the answer was “Yes,” then the person was asked to name the language.

You might be surprised at how many different languages were reported: 300. Yes, 300 different languages are spoken in the United States. The Modern Language Association focuses on the thirty most common languages. Of course, English is the number one language, Spanish is the second most common, Chinese is the third, and French is the fourth.

Now the Modern Language Association has put all this information together in different ways, so for example, you can look up a particular language, let’s say, Korean, and see how many speakers there are throughout the United States. There are almost 900,000 Korean speakers in the United States. Then, you can see how that compares to the total number of speakers of languages other than English. So of the people who speak another language, 2 percent are Korean speakers. It’s also possible to see how many Korean speakers there are in different areas. Two main areas of concentration are Southern California and Washington State.

Now another way you can look at the information is by starting with place the entire United States, a state, a county, or a city, so, for example, looking at the state of Texas … in Texas, English is spoken at home by just over 68 percent of people. Of the people who speak another language, 86 percent speak Spanish, and it’s only 1 or 2 percent for any of the other languages. So Spanish really is the predominant language other than English in Texas. Now, you can then compare that information to other states. For example, looking at the state of New York … in New York, a little over 72 percent of people speak English at home. Of the speakers of other languages, 49 percent speak Spanish, and then 8 percent speak Chinese, 6 percent speak Italian, and 4 percent speak Russian, and 4 percent speak French. So you can see that there are a lot of Spanish speakers in New York, but there are also other languages spoken – more so than in Texas.

  1. So there are different ways to look at this data. Let’s talk about possible ways this information could be used or why it’s important. I’d like to open this up for discussion. Do you have any ideas? Yes, in the front row?

B:   I think this could be important for educational purposes. You know, so people know what kinds of classes might be needed in the schools and things like that. And I think it’s also important to understand the cultural make-up of the United States.

A:   Yes, definitely. Anyone else? Yes?

C:   Isn’t it also important to be aware of possible language change. You know, if one language is being used less or more over time?

A:   Yes, absolutely. OK, we’re out of time, but we’re going to talk about language change next week, so we’ll discuss it more then.

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