The Different Languages Spoken in the UK

Caitlin Nicholson

Different Languages Spoken in the UK

The United Kingdom has been in the news quite a bit over the last few weeks, what with the Brexit vote that could mean it will leave the European Union. All eyes have been on the UK, with communication being at the center of their concerns: does the vote speak for an increasingly diversified population?

Everyone knows that English is the most widely spoken language in the UK, but it is far from the only language spoken there. According to the 2011 Census, there are over 4 million people living in the UK who do not speak English as their first, or primary, language. And, in fact, nearly 140,000 residents of the UK do not speak English at all.

In England and Wales, the most widely spoken language after English is Polish. Of the over 56.1 million residents of England and Wales, approximately 546,000 speak Polish, about the same number of people who speak Welsh.

After English, Welsh, and Polish, the next most widely spoken languages are Indian and Pakistani ones like Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati, and Punjabi, which taken together account for about a million people. There are also about 141,000 Chinese speakers and other pockets of smaller languages.

Interestingly, academics believe that the wide variety of languages spoken in the UK may start to change the way English is spoken in the region. There have always been words traded between languages: for example, words like croissant from French, or pajamas from Hindi. But the high number of Polish speakers might mean that Polish has a particular influence on the language.

That being said, any number of languages can and will begin to influence English, particularly because the census data reveals that approximately 13% of the total population was born abroad.

Over a million households have residents whose primary language is English, and this will mean that the English they speak in the UK will continue to change, and in different ways than the English we speak in the U.S. will change.

The entire region has a rich cultural heritage, and the breadth of languages spoken there clearly reflects that fact. And as time continues to pass, those languages will continue to influence one another, as they always have.

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