Over 9 in 10 people in England and Wales reported English (English or Welsh in Wales) as their main language in March 2011. However in London, this proportion was much lower. Despite almost 1 in 10 having another main language other than English or Welsh, a much smaller percentage of the total population said they could either not speak English well or not at all. Some languages were concentrated in particular areas and these are reported on.
In March 2011 the Census showed that 49.8 million (92.3 per cent) of people aged three and over reported English (English or Welsh in Wales) as their main language.
4.2 million people (7.7 per cent) reported another main language. Polish was the most popular 'Other' main language with 546,000 people reporting this as their main language (1.0 per cent of the total population). London had the highest proportion with another main language (22.1 per cent).
The local authority with the highest proportion of people with English (English or Welsh in Wales) as their main language was Redcar and Cleveland (99.3 per cent). The London Borough of Newham had the lowest proportion at 58.6 per cent.
Three quarters (3,000) of those who reported Yiddish as their main language were in the London borough of Hackney. Half (10,800) of those who reported Pakistani Pahari (with Mirpuri and Potwari) as their main language lived in Birmingham.
In England and Wales 726,000 people (1.3 per cent) reported that they could not speak English well and 138,000 people (0.3 per cent) reported that they could not speak English at all. London and the West Midlands saw the highest percentage of people who could not speak English well or not at all (4.1 per cent and 2.0 per cent respectively). Across local authorities, the percentage of people who could not speak English well or not at all was highest in Newham (8.7 per cent).
A podcast explaining this story using audio commentary and graphical animations is available on the ONS YouTube channel.Back to table of contents
In the 2011 Census, 92.3 per cent of people (49.8 million) aged three and over in England and Wales reported English as their main language (English or Welsh in Wales).
The remaining 7.7 per cent of the population (4.2 million) had a main language other than English.
Polish was the most common language after English1 with 546,000 people (1.0 per cent of the population) reporting it as their main language.
After Polish the next most common main languages were from South Asia, Panjabi (273,000 people) and Urdu (269,000) each with 0.5 per cent and Bengali (with Sylheti and Chatgaya, 221,000) and Gujarati (213,000) each with 0.4 per cent. This was followed by Arabic (159,000) and French (147,000) each with 0.3 per cent.
Notes for main language in England and Wales
- English or Welsh in Wales
Across the English regions, the highest percentage of people who reported English as their main language was in the North East at 97.2 per cent, closely followed by the South West at 96.5 per cent. In Wales 97.1 per cent of people spoke English or Welsh as their main language1
London had the lowest proportion of people who reported their main language as English with 77.9 per cent (just over 6 million people).
London had the highest proportion of usual residents born outside the UK and non- UK nationals (International Migrants in England and Wales 2011) .London is also the most ethnically diverse (Ethnicity and National Identity in England and Wales 2011) and has the highest proportion of people affiliated with a religion other than Christian (Religion in England and Wales 2011).
Polish was the most common reported ‘Other’ main language in London with 1.9 per cent (148,000) of people reporting this as their main language. Bengali (with Sylheti and Chatgaya) and Gujarati followed with 1.5 per cent (114,000) and 1.3 per cent (102,000) respectively.
Notes for main language across English regions and WalesBack to table of contents
In the 2011 Census form the main language question in Wales asked respondents whether they spoke English or Welsh as their main language, however, it did not allow them to record which of English or Welsh was their main language.
A question on Welsh language skills was also asked on the 2011 Census form in Wales. The question asked was 'Can you understand, speak, read or write Welsh?' - answered by ticking one or more of five boxes (one for each category and one for 'None of these') in any combination.
In 2011, 19 per cent of people aged three and over in Wales were able to speak Welsh (562,000). 14.6 per cent of the population in Wales were able to speak, read and write Welsh. Nearly three quarters of the population in Wales had no Welsh language skills.Back to table of contents
People who reported a main language other than English1 were asked how well they spoke English. While 7.7 per cent of the population (4.2 million) of England and Wales had a main language other than English, only 1.3 per cent (726,000) of the population reported that they could not speak English well and 0.3 per cent (138,000) reported that they could not speak English at all2. The proportions were highest in London with nearly 4.1 per cent of the population (320,000 people) unable to speak English well or not at all followed by 2.0 per cent in the West Midlands. The North East had the lowest proportion of people who were unable to speak English well or not at all.
Notes for proficiency in English
- English or Welsh in Wales
- English language proficiency has been calculated as a percentage of the population aged three and over.
A question on main language and proficiency in speaking English was asked for the first time in the 2011 census. The question captured information through a tick-box on those who reported their main language as English (or English or Welsh in Wales). A write-in option captured languages other than English, this included Sign Languages. Those that selected the option for another language were asked a follow-up question on proficiency of English spoken. Respondents were asked how well they could speak English and could select one of the four tick boxes, ‘How well can you speak English?’ ‘very well’, ‘well’, ‘not well’, and ‘not at all’.
Language is an important defining characteristic of people’s identity. Information from this question can be used with data collected from other identity questions such as ethnic group, national identity and religion to provide a detailed picture of England and Wales in 2011. The data also helps local authorities to target, deliver and facilitate the provision of public services, for example, to help identify the need for translation and the interpretation for providing English language lessons. ONS decided that meeting this need was essential for any language question.
Future releases of 2011 Census data will include multivariate tables (two or more variables for example, ethnic group by main language).This will enable more detailed analyses of the population’s characteristics to be published.Back to table of contents
A similar question on language is asked on the Labour Force Survey (LFS). This survey showed that in 2012, 92.2 per cent of the population in England and Wales had English (English and Welsh in Wales) as their ‘first language at home’. This figure has been steadily declining since 2003 (when the question was first asked) when it was 95.0 per cent showing a decrease of 2.8 percentage points overall.
This is broadly consistent with the 2011 Census, however, there should be caution when comparing the Census due to methodological differences - the LFS is a sample survey and asks a question on the ‘first language at home’ (every three years) and not ‘What is your main language’.Back to table of contents
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