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CLI’s Language & Immigration Trends

We look at language trends all. the. time. And there are two things we know for sure: Spanish requests dominate and the top 10 requested languages rarely shift. It’s when you look down the list of 230+ languages we offer that things start to be a little more unpredictable (and interesting!).

With more than 350 languages spoken across the U.S. and an ever-shifting population enriched with communities of immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants, nothing is static.

To make sure we’re at the ready with interpreters in the languages you need, we keep our finger on the pulse of language and immigration trends across the country. And we’re here to share some glimpses into our monthly data insights. 


CLI brings you the latest analysis of refugee data from the Refugee Processing Center (RPC) and our internal language data for interpreting services.


A Year in Review: Languages & Refugees, 2021 to 2022

Refugee Surges Correspond with Higher Demand for Languages 

Looking back over the last year, it’s no surprise that the languages that saw the highest increase were Dari, Pashto, Ukrainian, and Lingala. This, of course, corresponds to large increases in the number of refugees resettled in the U.S. from Ukraine, Afghanistan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo:

  • Ukraine: ↑ 66%
  • Afghanistan: ↑ 59%
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo: ↑ 45%
Languages with the highest increases in requests in 2022 compared with 2021
Languages with the highest increases in requests in 2022 compared with 2021

In 2022, these three countries faced conflict that caused major displacement and humanitarian crises.  

Countries across the globe continue to struggle with decades-long conflicts, economic turmoil, and the devastating effects of climate change,” states the International Rescue Committee (IRC). 

“The guardrails that once prevented such crises from spiraling out of control — including peace treaties, humanitarian aid, and accountability for violations of international law — have been weakened or dismantled.” 

Unfortunately, these countries were among the top 10 on the IRC’s 2023 Emergency Watchlist, meaning it’s probable we’ll continue to see the need for these languages well into the future.

See also: 2023 Predictions: What’s on the Horizon for Language Access and Interpreting Services

Shifts in Our Top 10 Languages

Looking at the number of requests for interpreters in CLI’s top 10 languages in 2022 compared to 2021, we saw some interesting fluctuations.

Changes in requests for CLI’s top 10 languages from 2021 to 2022

Most notably in 2022, requests for Haitian Creole increased by 34%, while requests for Somali decreased by 30%. Meanwhile, requests for Spanish, French, and Arabic hardly changed from 2021.


December 2022

In December, the U.S. welcomed 2,403 refugees from across the world. The largest influx arrived from Africa — 1,118 refugees in total — with 771 from the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone. This will likely lead to an increase in language requests in French, Kikongo, Lingala, Sango, and Swahili.

The next highest influx for the month were 368 refugees who arrived from Afghanistan. We expect to see more requests from languages spoken by those individuals, including Dari, Farsi, Pashto, and Tajik.

Four languages saw notable increases in requests during December 2022

This month, some of our largest increases in language requests included:

  • Navajo (spoken in the U.S.): ↑ 56%
  • Mongolian (spoken in Mongolia): ↑ 38%
  • Amharic (spoken in Ethiopia): ↑ 26%
  • Armenian (spoken in Armenia, Georgia & Russia): ↑ 25%

November 2022

Overall, November showed steady growth in predictable languages. We also saw increases in languages spoken primarily in Myanmar and Ethiopia — both of which had a corresponding influx of new refugees into the U.S. during the same timeframe.

Refugees admitted to the U.S. & language increases in November

366 refugees from Myanmar (2,604 so far this year)

  • 100% increase in Pwo Karen 
  • 34% increase in Rohingya 
  • 25% increase in Karen

41 refugees from Ethiopia (281 so far this year)

  • 42% increase in Oromo
  • 36% increase in Amharic

Below are a few of the other languages that experienced notable increases in requests for interpreters in November:

  • 69% increase in Ilocano (spoken in the Philippines) 
  • 53% increase in Gujarati (spoken in India)
  • 40% increase in Hmong (spoken in Thailand, Vietnam, China & Laos)
  • 38% increase in Nuer (spoken in the Republic of South Sudan)
  • 24% increase in Mam (spoken in Guatemala)

October 2022

We saw notable increases in requests for languages primarily spoken in Central America and Asia in October compared with requests in September.

Increases in language requests primarily spoken in Central America and Asia in October 2022.

Central America

  • 1,967% increase in Q’anjob’al and 44% increase in Mam (both spoken in Guatemala)

Asia

  • 103% increase in Tibetan (spoken in Bhutan)
  • 69% increase in Uzbek (spoken in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan)
  • 43% increase in Hmong (spoken in Thailand, Vietnam, China, and Laos)

Some of the increases in language requests aligned with refugees admitted to the U.S. from countries where those languages are primarily spoken:

  • 1,967% increase in Q’anjob’al and 44% increase in Mam — coincided with 161 new refugees from Guatemala
  • 37% increase in Karenni/Kayah (spoken in Myanmar) — coincided with 216 new refugees from Myanmar

September 2022

This month, the U.S. received the largest influx of refugees from these 3 countries of origin. Here’s a closer look at how these surges correlate with increases in requests for languages spoken in those countries.

The number of refugees admitted from the top 3 countries and corresponding increases in language requests in September 2022

1. The Democratic Republic of the Congo again saw the largest surge of refugees, with 2,181 newly admitted in September and 7,810 refugees so far in 2022.

  • So far we haven’t seen increases in interpreter requests for languages spoken in the DRC, other than an 18% uptick in requests for Lingala.

2. The next highest surge of refugees came from Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), with 658 new arrivals admitted in September and 2,156 refugees so far in 2022. 

  • This corresponded to one of the month’s largest increases in language requests, with a 225% increase for Zyphe (Zophei), primarily spoken in Myanmar. 

3. The third-highest surge in refugees came from Syria, with 493 admitted this month and 4,556 so far in 2022. 

  • We also saw a 64% increase in requests for Bahdini Kurdish, a dialect spoken in the northeastern regions of Syria (as well as in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey). 

Related: Check out the most commonly spoken languages in each country


August 2022

In August, the largest influx of refugees (945!) came to the U.S. from Africa.

We tracked some of our largest monthly increases in language requests from languages spoken throughout Africa as well:

  • Hausa (spoken in Nigeria): 325%
  • Ewe (spoken in Togo): 213%
  • Cape Verde Creole (spoken in Cape Verde): 73%
A map showing the largest increases CLI had in requests from languages spoken in Africa during August 2022


July 2022

In July, the U.S. admitted a large influx of refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) — 4 times more than the next highest country of origin.

Countries of origin for the highest U.S. admissions of refugees in July 2022

To support this growing refugee population (4,917 refugees so far in 2022!), we’re keeping close tabs on requests for the most common languages spoken in the DRC to make sure we have plenty of interpreters ready to take calls in Swahili, French, Lingala, Kikongo, and Sango.

In July, the states with the largest resettlements of refugees from the DRC include:

  • Kentucky (129 refugees)
  • Ohio (106 refugees)
  • Texas (73 refugees)
  • North Carolina (72 refugees)

CLI also saw our highest increase in language requests for Georgian interpreters (spoken in Georgia, located in Eastern Europe) — a 144% increase in July compared to June.


June 2022

Rising Demand for African and Asian Languages

Looking at the number of interpreting sessions we handled for each language in June compared to May, we found particular increases in:

  • West & North African languages
    • 275% increase in Krio (spoken in Sierra Leone)
    • 66% increase in Moroccan Arabic (spoken in Morocco and Western Sahara)
    • 39% increase in Mandinka (spoken in The Gambia)
  • Southeast & Western Asian languages
    • 36% increase in Yemeni Arabic (spoken in Yemen)
    • 34% increase in Rohingya (spoken in Myanmar — coinciding with 1,129 new refugees from Myanmar admitted into the U.S. in the first 6 months of 2022)