Bilingualism in the USA

I’m back from the USA. I had a fantastic time (can you see me in the photo?).
I won’t talk about the differences between British and American English, as other blogs out there do it much better than I would ever be capable of, particularly Separated by a common language, an old favourite of mine.
meinbryceWhat I found more striking, from a language point of view, particularly in San Francisco, was how often I heard people switch languages with amazing ease.
In the two most striking cases, I heard a mother greet her son and his friends in perfect twangy American English, to then use Spanish to ask him to walk the dog before dinner; she then switched back to English to say good-bye to the youngsters and tell them to be good. A couple of days later, I was queuing to buy a burger in Sausalito when a very Californian-looking woman, all perfect teeth and golden tan, asked me whether this was where one could buy the best burgers in Sausalito. I replied that according to my guide book, that was the case. She thanked me with an enthusiastic “Thank you very much, you have a great day!” and turned to her friend to relay the exciting news in an unidentified language (Russian?).
This led me to wonder about bilingualism in America: a quick search led me to a 2005 article on bilingualism in the USA from the Migration Institute and to the Census Bureau website, which gives comprehensive information on many topics, including language use in the States. It reveals that

In 2000, 18 percent of the total population aged 5 and over, or 47.0 million people, reported they spoke a language other than English at home.

This data isn’t recent, it dates back to 2000, when the last census was done, and it’ll be interesting to see how the various indicators change in the 2010 census.
I’ve nearly fallen asleep three times while writing this and I have six hours to last before I can go to bed at a normal time. Does anyone have any tips on how to get over jetlag?

By |2016-10-18T15:49:22+00:00November 28th, 2008|Language|6 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. bonnjill November 28, 2008 at 10:36 pm

    Try to sleep on the plane next time. You should try to power through the day and go to bed early (around 10 PM). You can also take a short nap, but make sure it isn’t longer than an hour – otherwise you’ll suffer for days…

  2. Chacher November 29, 2008 at 8:05 am

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see 2010 census indicators at around 25%. I visit various parts of the east coast once a year, and the number of people not speaking English grows noticeably every time. The fascinating part is that this is happening in many much smaller urban areas too.
    Getting over jetlag: The best way ‘reset’ your circadian rhythms is to get out in the sun!

  3. Crug November 29, 2008 at 10:29 am

    Oui , je t’ai repérée au finfond de Bryce Canyon ( quel endroit à la géologie déjantée)! Nous étions aussi dans les ” 4 Corners” l’été dernier et sommes parfois passés de l’Anglais à l’Espagnol .Mais pour nous, rien de nouveau et pas besoin de traverser l’Atlantique puisque nous vivons à l’Ouest aussi mais du Pays de Galles où le bilinguisme est quotidien et naturel. Lorsque nous étions dans le Sud-Ouest des USA, nous avons d’ailleurs remarqué une similarité avec la situation linguistique dans la nation Navajo, et c’était un plaisir d’entendre que la ” Vieille Langue” y était également très vivante. Quant au jet-lag, nous n’avons pas trouvé de remède, si ce n’est de lire les excellents polars de Tony Hillerman quand on ne pouvait pas dormir la nuit!

  4. céline December 1, 2008 at 10:30 am

    Sleep on the plane? With The Shining and the X Files on? Impossible. And I didn’t want to miss out on the free peanuts. I’m actually feeling fine, let’s hope it lasts.

  5. Elizabeth December 4, 2008 at 4:21 am

    1) In addition to staying out in the sun as much as possible,
    2) eat a LOT during the day and have a little snack before bed (just until you’re back on schedule, of course!)Your stomach is part of what regulates your sleep schedule.

  6. céline December 4, 2008 at 9:10 am

    Staying out in the sun?! I live in Leeds, we won’t see the sun til around May now! Thanks for the advice, although my stomach already rules my life. I slept a bit better last night, there is hope.

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