ECTACO Info | English is a second language to one in 13: More than 100 dialects are spoken by large numbers of people in the UK

By Steve Doughty

  • In England and Wales 138,000 people cannot speak English at all
  • More than four million in the UK speak English as their second language
  • Polish has overtaken Welsh as the second most spoken language in the UK

  • More than four million people in England and Wales – around one in 13 – do not use English as their first language, official statistics show.
    More than 100 languages are spoken by significant numbers of people in the UK, according to census results.
    However, a big majority of the foreign language speakers have mastered English and can use it in their everyday lives.
    Only 138,000 people say they cannot speak English at all.
    The figures were taken from the findings of the 2011 National Census and published by the Office for National Statistics.
    It said that 4.2 million people – 7.7 per cent of the population – speak a first language that is not English.
    Groups of foreign language speakers are found around the country. Around one in eight people in Leicester speak Gujarati as their first language.
    More than 6 per cent of those in Rushmoor, Hampshire – close to the army bases of Aldershot and an area with a strong Gurkha community – speak Nepalese.
    In the Lincolnshire town of Boston, more than 5 per cent of the population speak Lithuanian, Latvian, Russian or Polish.

    The greatest concentration of foreign language speakers is in London, where 22.1 per cent of the population, around 1.7 million people, have a language other than English as their first language.
    The ONS said in its report: ‘Language is an important defining characteristic of people’s identity.
    ‘It can be used with information from other identity questions such as ethnic group, nationality and religion to provide a detailed picture of England and Wales.’

    The ONS added that the figures help ‘local authorities to provide public services, for example to  identify the need for translation and interpretation and English  language lessons’.

    In London nearly one in 50 people have Polish as their first language – 1.9 per cent of the population. The next most commonly used languages are Bengali, spoken by 1.5 per cent, and Gujarati, used by 1.3 per cent.

    The greatest concentration of  foreign language speakers in the capital are in the East London  borough of Newham, where 41.4 per cent of people have a non-English first language.

    In Westminster 5.7 per cent of the population have Arabic as a first language.

    In Kensington and Chelsea, just under 5 per cent of people are native French speakers.

    The greatest concentration of Lithuanian speakers is in Boston – the town which attracted attention in January after Cambridge academic Mary Beard told BBC1’s Question Time programme that its local fears over immigration were a ‘myth’ and that ‘public services can cope’.

    She was rebuked by local businesswoman Rachel Bull, a descendant of Polish grandparents, who said services were at ‘breaking point’.