Demographic Tools for Heritage Language Instructors

Instructors of heritage learners benefit from knowing about the community of speakers in their area. Data on language speakers are available from several sources:

Online Sources of Data

  • U.S. Census. The U.S. Census offers data on speakers of languages other than English nationally and by state, county, and city. Available are figures for the 2000 Census, as well as yearly Community Surveys. Click here to go to the U.S. Census web site.

    Data sets, also called Summary Files, are available for each Census (held every decade) and for interim American Community Surveys (data from the 2006 Community Survey were released in September 2007). Summary File (SF) 3 yields data on languages spoken correlated with other variables including age, linguistic isolation 1, and country of birth. In SF 3 you can request "detailed tables" and then search by keyword for "language" and choose the tables of interest.

    Here is a table that we have prepared based on data from the 2000 U.S. Census and the 2006 American Community Survey on speakers of language other than English in the U.S. for the 39 languages or language groups that the Census reports.

    The Census also publishes reports on language-related topics; for example, the census brief Language Use and English-Speaking Ability: 2000 can be found here.
  • MLA Language Map. This site offers census-based data on languages spoken in nationally and by state, county, and city. Data can be generated in the form of maps, tables, and graphs. The Language Map can be found here.
  • State departments of education (look up by state). Some department websites provide data on languages spoken by K-12 public school pupils, but type and availability vary by state. Each state presents data in its own way, and some do not seem to offer any data on line.

Other Possible Data Sources

  • Educational institutions often survey incoming students on their backgrounds. Heritage language instructors could inquire about the questions asked and advocate for including questions on languages spoken at home.
  • Language instructors can survey their own heritage learners or other members of the speech community. Two sample questionnaires for collecting data are attached as examples and may be used or adapted. One questionnaire is shorter and the second asks for more detail.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, "A linguistically isolated household is one in which no member 14 years old and over (1) speaks only English or (2) speaks a non-English language and speaks English 'very well.' In other words, all members 14 years old and over have at least some difficulty with English." (back)


American Fact Finder. (n.d.) U.S. Census Bureau. Washington, DC. Available from