The List: 10 Most Common Languages of NJ’s Polyglot Student Population

Spanish is the undisputed leader, but kids in New Jersey’s schools speak everything from Arabic to Portuguese and Chinese to Telugu

diversity kids students
New Jersey has almost 2 million foreign-born residents, about 22 percent of the state’s population. More than 90,000 of them are school-aged, which has broad implications for the state’s schools.

Educators throughout the state are faced with the task of teaching students who do not speak English well, or at all. Some schools have only a few students, while in others, a majority of students speak one or many languages other than English. An analysis of the most recent New Jersey School Performance Report for the 2014-2015 school year indicates that public school students spoke more than 165 different languages at home.

These are the 10 languages spoken by the most students, after English, last year:

1. Spanish

There were about 192,000 Spanish-speakers in the state’s schools, representing 14.1 percent of all students. This language was nearly ubiquitous, with 90 percent of the state’s districts reporting at least some students speaking Spanish. Elizabeth reported the most Spanish speakers, more than 14,000. There were two schools — No. 11 in Paterson and Etta Gero No. 9 in Passaic — where more than nine in 10 students spoke Spanish.

2. Chinese

Some 9,600 students, about 0.7 percent of all, spoke Chinese. The West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional District reported the most Chinese speakers — nearly 900 or 9 percent of all. Four elementary schools in Livingston — Harrison, Collins, Hillside and Mount Pleasant — had the largest proportion of Chinese speakers, with each reporting 15 percent or more of all students spoke Chinese

3. Arabic

Also representing about 0.7 percent of enrollment, some 9,500 students spoke Arabic. Four of 10 districts reported students speaking Arabic. Jersey City had the largest number of Arabic speakers, almost 1,800, or about 6 percent of the school population . The school with the largest proportion of Arabic speakers was in Jersey City — Martin Luther King Jr. School, where almost 35 percent of students spoke Arabic.

4. Gujarati

About 7,700 students, or 0.6 percent of all, spoke this Indian language. About a third of districts reported at least one student speaking Gujarati. Edison had the most students, about 1,200, or 8 percent of its enrollment. Three schools in Woodbridge had the greatest percentages of students speaking Gujarati, with Kennedy Park Elementary School reporting nearly 22 percent of its school population speaking the language.

5. Korean

Nearly 6,800 students, or 0.5 percent of all, spoke Korean. About a quarter of districts had Korean speakers. Fort Lee had the most, close to 900, or nearly 1 in 4 students. Two schools in Palisades Park had the largest proportion of students speaking Korean: 38 percent at the Charles R.. Smith Early Childhood Center and 35 percent at Lindbergh Elementary.

6. Portuguese

Another 0.5 percent of all students, or more than 6,700 students. While more than a quarter of districts had some Portuguese speakers, Newark had a fourth of all the Portuguese students in the state, with the nearly 1,800 Portuguese speakers representing almost 6 percent of its enrollment. More than 40 percent of the students at the Ann Street school in Newark spoke Portuguese.

7. Hindi

More than 5,200 students, or 0.4 percent of all in New Jersey, spoke Hindi. India’s dominant language and one of the most common in the world, Hindi was found in one out of four of the state’s districts. Once again, Edison had the most speakers of this Indian language, roughly 1,200 students or 8 percent of its enrollment. The Cornelia F. Bradford School in Jersey City had the greatest proportion of Hindi students, 15 percent.

8. Telugu

About 4,000 students, or 0.3 percent of the total enrollment, spoke Telugu. The third most common language in India, Telugu was found in more than 10 percent of the state’s districts. Edison, again, had the most speakers — about 800 or 6 percent of its school population. Oak Tree Elementary in Monroe in Middlesex County had the largest proportion of Telugu speakers — more than 15 percent.

9. Haitian Creole

Also representing 0.3 percent of the state’s students, roughly 3,500 students spoke Haitian Creole. Students spoke Haitian Creole in 45 districts. Elizabeth had the most students — close to 700 or about 3 percent of its enrollment. About a quarter of the students at the Orange Early Childhood Center spoke Haitian Creole.

10. Polish

The 3,300 Polish speakers — 0.2 percent of all — made it the tenth most common language in schools. Close to three in 10 districts reported Polish students last year. Wallington in Bergen County had the largest number — almost 500 or about 38 percent of its population, and its three schools each had about the same proportion of Polish speakers as the district.

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