The List: The Top 10 Multilingual Municipalities in New Jersey

Meir Rinde | April 27, 2015 | The List
The Garden State attracts residents from around the world, and they speak a wealth of tongues, from Arabic to Urdu

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New Jersey is among the most ethnically diverse states, with minorities making up more than 40 percent of the population. Twenty-one percent of residents are foreign-born and 30 percent of those five years old or older speak a language other than English at home.

The state’s multilingual residents are concentrated in North Jersey, particularly in Hudson County’s Latino communities. The top 10 multilingual towns are ranked by the number of non-English speakers who live in the municipality, according to U.S. Census data.

1. Jersey City, Hudson County
The state’s second-most-populous municipality is often called the most diverse city in the country, by various measures. Some 122,000 residents age 5 and older, or 52 percent, speak another language in addition to English. That includes 53,000 Spanish speakers, followed by speakers of Tagalog (13,105), Hindi (9,823), Arabic (7,223), Chinese (6,184), Gujarati (5,338), Urdu (3,242), French Creole (2,631), French (including Patois and Cajun, 2,302), Vietnamese (1,793), and thousands of speakers of other Indian, Asian, and African languages.

2. Newark, Essex County
The finance website Wallethub ranked Newark the state’s second-most-diverse city and the 64th nationwide. New Jersey’s biggest municipality has about 116,000 people who speak languages other than English at home, or 55 percent of residents. In addition to 80,000 Hispanaphones, the city counts 21,000 speakers of Portuguese and Portuguese Creole, including immigrants from Brazil and West Africa and the descendants of previous immigrants from Portugal, who clustered in the Ironbound section. About 2,600 residents speak French Creole and nearly 5,000 speak African languages.

3. Elizabeth, Union County
Nearly three-quarters of city dwellers converse in a second tongue, chiefly the 67,000 who speak Spanish. The next-largest language groups are Portuguese speakers (8,032) and users of French Creole (3,600), who include Haitian and African immigrants. Among Elizabeth’s largest immigrant groups are Colombians, Ecuadorans, Salvadorans, Dominicans, Cubans, Peruvians, and Portuguese.

4. Paterson, Passaic County
Sixty-two percent of Patersonians have bilingual (or multilingual) facility. After the 53 percent (71,585) who chat in Español, speakers of Arabic make up the biggest single group, with 3,674 residents. They include immigrants from Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and Morocco, along with U.S.-born speakers. The city’s largest immigrant group is composed of its 16,000 Dominican-born residents, with Peruvians, Jamaicans, Ecuadorans, and Bangladeshis also well-represented. Paterson is said to have the second-largest Bangladeshi population in the U.S., after New York City.

5. Union City, Hudson County
A whopping 88 percent of Union City inhabitants speak a second language, overwhelmingly Spanish (52,570 or 84 percent). Italian comes in second with 349 speakers, and there are only 7,440 people age 5 and older who speak solely English. The biggest groups of residents who were born outside the United States are Cubans and Dominicans (about 6,000 each), Mexicans (4,845), Ecuadorans (5,424), and Salvadorans (3,589), along with Peruvians, Colombians, and many others originally from Latin America.

6. Edison, Middlesex County
Fast-growing Edison, New Jersey’s fifth-biggest town, stands out on the list for having a relatively small Spanish-speaking population of 6,357 (7 percent), but thousands of residents who speak Indian and Asian languages. Gujarati, which originates in west India, tops the list at 8,495 speakers, followed by Chinese (6,636) and Hindi (5,676). The catchall grouping of “other Asian languages,” including South Asian languages, Malayalam, Telugu, and Tamil, has 8,287 members, while “other Indic languages,” which includes Punjabi, Bengali, and Marathi, has 3,135.


7. Passaic, Passaic County
Passaic has 46,678 residents who use a second language, or 74 percent of the population; the town has nearly 13,000 Mexican and 7,000 Dominican immigrants, along with Peruvians, Colombians, and others. About two-thirds of residents speak Spanish. The next most prevalent tongue is Gujarati (1,419). Polish is spoken by 821 residents, reflecting both new immigration and the region’s well-established Polish-American community. More than 52,000 New Jersey residents were born in Poland.

8. North Bergen, Hudson County
In North Bergen, 79 percent or 45,000 people speak second languages. Sixty-eight percent of North Bergenites, or about 39,000 individuals, are Spanish speakers, while 1,498 are users of Gujarati and 763 discourse in Arabic.

9. Clifton, Passaic County
In addition to its 23,000 Spanish speakers, Clifton has one of the state’s largest Polish-speaking cohorts, numbering 3,963 or 5 percent of city residents. Overall, 55 percent or 43,519 people gab in non-English vernaculars. Arabic (4,146), Gujarati (2,049), Tagalog (1,614), Italian (774) and Russian (748) are well-represented, along with speakers of “other Asian languages” (1,677).

10. West New York, Hudson County
The smallest town on the list is also one of the most purely bilingual in the state. Seventy-five percent of residents, or 35,067 people, speak Spanish or Spanish Creole, the highest percentage after Jersey City. Only about 4,000 speak other second languages, including Gujarati (544), Arabic (356), and Japanese (374). All told, 84 percent (39,073) of West New Yorkers speak a second language.