Revealed: Most popular language in England and Wales behind English

  • Census data shows how Britain's cultural makeup has changed over a 10-year period as the prominence of certain languages shifts

  • Polish remains the most commonly spoken language other than English and Welsh, with 1.1% of the population speaking it

  • The number of Romanian speakers has leapt, entering the UK's top 10 languages for the first time

  • Figures from the Office for National Statistics reveal some of the country's barely spoken languages being kept alive by a handful of people

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 24: King Charles III during a luncheon for Members of the Order of Merit at Buckingham Palace on November 24, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Aaron Chown - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
A large variety of languages from across the world are spoken in England and Wales – though English is still by far the dominant language. (Getty Images)

English is the world's most spoken language, with more than 1.5 billion people able to speak it as their first or additional language.

It is – unsurprisingly – the dominant language in England and Wales. The vast majority have English as their mother tongue and just 0.3% of the population are unable to speak it.

England and Wales are however home to more than 90 languages and dialects, according to new Office for National Statistics (ONS) data.

Some are more prominent than others, with a modest 16 people in the two countries speaking Ulster Scots, and just eight speaking Manx Gaelic as a main language.

Census data released today shows that the most popular language, excluding English and Welsh, is Polish, which is spoken by 1.1%, of the population, or 612,000 people.

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Most spoken language other than English, ONS 2021 survey
Polish and Romanian are by far the most spoken languages, excluding English and Welsh. (Yahoo News UK)

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Excluding English, it has remained the most commonly spoken language since the 2011 census.

Almost half of the main languages spoken other than English are European, while roughly a quarter are South Asian.

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Romanian has shot up from 19th in 2011, to second place, with an estimated 0.8% of the population, or 472,000 people, speaking it, compared to 0.1%, or 68,000 people 10 years previously.

It has pushed Panjabi down to number three, and Urdu down to four. Meanwhile Bengali has dropped from four to eight, while Portuguese and Spanish have risen four places to fifth and sixth.

Changes in most commonly spoken languages in England and Wales ONS
Romanian has rapidly shot up in popularity, while Portuguese and Spanish have also become more common. (Yahoo News UK)

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The number of residents who speak English and Welsh as a first language has also fallen slightly, from 92.3% in 2011 to 91.1% in 2021.

However, as the population has grown in those 10 years, this translates to 52.6 million people with English or Welsh as a main language in 2021, compared to 49.8 million in 2011.

There is now a further 7.1%, or 4.1 million people, who are proficient in English or Welsh, but don't speak it as their main language.

It comes as Britain continues to be increasingly diverse, with 81.7% (48.7 million) of usual residents in England and Wales identifying their ethnic group as white in 2021, a decrease from 86.0% (48.2 million) in the 2011 census.

Some 14 areas, including Leicester and Luton, now have a white population of less than 50%.

Other tongues have become far more prevalent in the last decade, with Romanian in particularly soaring in use over the past decade.

A handful of people are keeping some barely-spoken languages alive in England and Wales, with around 36 people speaking Irish Traveller Cant and 567 speaking Cornish.

Out of the 100,000 people identifying as Cornish, some 471 people said their main language was Cornish, rather than English.