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Language Geography. ACTIVITY SUMMARY : This activity explores the geography of language at national, state, and local scales. . Go to the Modern Language Association Maps web page ( ). Click on the “View the Map” link. Change the Show data category to “% by county”.

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Language Geography

ACTIVITY SUMMARY: This activity explores the geography of language at national, state, and local scales.

  • Go to the Modern Language Association Maps web page (
  • Click on the “View the Map” link.
  • Change the Show data category to “% by county”.
  • Scroll down the page and look at the chart that illustrates “Number and percentage of speakers per language in the entire US”
  • Spoken by about 10% of the US population, what language is the second most spoken language in the US? Spanish
  • What is the rest of the top 10? Fill in the chart below with the languages and number of speakers.
  • LanguageNumber of speakers
  • 3. Chinese 2 mil
  • 4. French 1.6 mil
  • 5. German 1.4 mil
  • 6. Tagalog 1.2 mil
  • 7. Vietnamese 1 mil
  • 8. Italian 1 mil
  • 9. Korean 900 K
  • 10. Russian 700 K

Use Google, Wikipedia or another source to determine what country Tagalog is the primary language: Phillipines

Do you think Spanish and Chinese were the second and third most spoken language in the US 100 years ago? Why or why not? Answers will vary

What three languages in the top ten list, other than English, do you think were the most spoken 100 years ago? Why? Likely European languages as they were the source areas of late 19th and early 20th century migration

Language Geography



Select Spanish or Spanish Creole in the language drop-down box, and click update map.

  • Describe and explain the general pattern you see on the map. More Spanish in the Southwest because of proximity to Mexico.
  • Are there any counties where greater than 61% of the population speaks Spanish? If yes, in what states? (You will need to use the zoom-in tool) CA, AZ, TX, NM
  • What county in Oklahoma has the highest percentage of Spanish speakers? (You may need to turn on the county labels). Texas
  • What is the percentage range? 33 to 62%
  • Why do you think this county has a higher percentage of Spanish speakers? Answers will vary. Hog farms and meat processing plants are a big factor.
  • In the state drop-down box, select Mainland US. You will probably want to turn off the county names.
  • Select Arabic in the language drop-down box and click update.
  • What major city is located in the county with the highest percentage of Arabic speakers in the country? Detroit
  • Now select Chinese for the language, Oklahoma for the state, and # by county.
  • List the five counties in Oklahoma with higher numbers of Chinese speakers: Tulsa, Oklahoma, Payne, Cleveland, Comanche
  • Try to explain the pattern you see. Think of at least two reasons there would be higher numbers of Chinese speakers in these counties. Tulsa (city), Oklahoma (city), Payne (university), Cleveland (university), Comanche (university and military)
  • Now select Thai for the language, mainland US for the state, and % by county.
  • How can you explain the dispersed pattern of Thai speakers? Why are there little pockets all over the country? If you are not sure how to answer this question, go to and look up “chain migration”. Answers will vary.Establishment of ethnic communities. Chain migration is the mechanism by which foreign nationals are allowed to immigrate by virtue of the ability of previous immigrants to send for their adult relatives.
  • Click the Data icon at the top-right of the page.
  • Select Oklahoma from the drop-down in the US and State box.
  • What are the top five languages spoken in Oklahoma? English, Spanish, German, Vietnamese, French
  • Now use the county tool and report the top five languages spoken in Kingfisher County in order from most to least: English, Spanish, Czech, German, Cheyenne
  • Do you know someone who speaks each of these languages? Answers will vary

Language Geography



Return to the Data Center and use the Language by State tool for the following questions:

  • In what state do the greatest number of French speakers live? Louisiana
  • Why? If you do not know the answer get on the internet and find out. You might try a simple search like “French Louisiana” in Wikipedia. Louisiana was a French colony.
  • Now we are going to the website of Massachusetts General Hospital to take a look at what languages are spoken in what countries around the world.
  • Why would a hospital have a webpage that provides language information? To better communicate with their patients / know what kind of interpreters they might need.
  • Go to the Massachusetts General Hospital language locator (
  • Find the country you are using for your poster project
  • What is the official language(s) for your country?
  • Answers will vary
  • What are other languages spoken in your country?
  • Answers will vary
  • If you have finished this assignment, explore other parts of the world using this map, particularly Europe. Read about cultural values, health care values, and diets, and how they vary from country to country.
  • You can also go to and search for African languages. Read about the tremendous language variation in Africa. How many languages are spoken in Africa? 1800

Language Geography