June 12, 2017. Many institutions in upstate New York cities and metro areas are wrestling with translation services, language access, and other ways to help integrate local residents who didn’t grow up speaking English. And, while the immigrant share of the population is not as big as in cities like New York or Los Angeles, the diversity of languages spoken can make for its own challenges.

An analysis of the 2015 American Community Survey 5-year data for Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse cities and metro areas demonstrates how languages spoken vary from the suburbs to the cities.

As in most of the country, the most common language for people who don’t speak English is Spanish. Yet, while nationwide 62 percent of people who speak a language other than English speak Spanish, in upstate New York Spanish is considerably less dominant—the parallel figures for the cities and metro areas shown here range from 31 to 46 percent.

After Spanish, there’s a striking range of languages spoken. Chinese, French, Italian, Polish, and Arabic feature prominently in many areas—sometimes spoken by new immigrants, sometimes by older immigrants from a previous generation. Quite a few of the languages spoken in these communities are not even enumerated in the data – the comparatively large “other Asian languages” category, for example, includes Nepali, spoken by refugees from Bhutan and a number of distinct languages spoken by refugees and immigrants from Burma, among many others. This in part reflects the diversity of immigration, and in part the substantial refugee resettlement programs in the region.

The languages spoken in each city may vary significantly from those spoken in the corresponding metro area, which includes both the city and its surrounding suburbs. That’s because the characteristics of immigrants living in the city vary quite a bit from those of immigrants living in the suburbs.

However, not all individuals who speak another language need translators or translated documents because there is a variation of English speaking ability among different languages. Those that speak a language other than English are more likely to live in the city than in the suburbs, for all three upstate areas.

In the Rochester metro area, for example, at least 50-percent of all people that speak another language speak English “very well.” The only exceptions are those that speak Vietnamese, Laotian, and other Indic Languages. The English-speaking ability data are reported for the metro area.

by Cyierra Roldan

Below are links to the downloadable data for Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse.