Languages in London

London has unusually high rates of bi- and multilingualism compared to the rest of the UK. Twenty-two per cent (22%) of Londoners reported a main language other than English, well above the national average. Areas of particular concentration of languages in London are shown on this map on the Guardian website.

In the 2011 Census, only 90 languages were reported for London. By contrast, in Baker and Eversley’s (2000) survey of 896,700 children in London, over 300 home languages were reported. The census thus massively under-reports home languages.

In Baker and Eversley’s study, the top five non-English languages spoken in London were Bengali/Sylheti,  Panjabi, Gujarati, Hindi/Urdu, and Turkish. The top five languages reported in Census 2011 were Polish, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi/Urdu, and French.

Thirty-seven per cent (37%) of London’s population was born outside the UK. Forty-two per cent (42%) of the population in Tower Hamlets was born outside the UK, with just over seven per cent (7%) arriving in the last two years. Once again, erroneous links have been made between high immigration and diverse heritage languages, and non-use of English. In a blog entry, Esther de Leeuw comments: “0.6% of the total population reports to not speak English, and 4.5% of the population of London has arrived in London within the last two years. It seems like these new arrivals might actually be doing quite a good job at learning English in those two years.”

Elsewhere on this website you can find information about research indicating the cognitive, economic, and social advantages that could be gained from London’s multilingual communities, as well as events and activities that help raise awareness of these benefits.

Baker, Philip and John Eversley (eds). 2000. Multilingual Capital: The Languages of London’s School Children and their Relevance to Economic, Social and Educational Policies. London: Battlebridge Publications.