English language skills

Published

Last updated 30 September 2020 - see all updates

1. Main facts and figures

  • at the 2011 Census, more than 90% of people in England and Wales said English was their first language
  • 1.3% of the population of England and Wales (726,000 people) could speak English but not well, and 0.3% of the population (138,000 people) reported that they could not speak English at all
  • Polish was the most commonly spoken language after English
  • after White British people, people from a Black Caribbean background were the ethnic group most likely to speak English as their main language
  • people from a Bangladeshi ethnic background were the group most likely to not speak English well, or at all
  • people from an Other White ethnic background were the group least likely to speak English as their main language
  • 3 in 5 of those who couldn’t speak English well were female (Pakistani and Bangladeshi women were 5 times more likely than their male counterparts to speak no English at all)
  • there were regional differences in the percentage of people who couldn’t speak English for most ethnic groups

2. Things you need to know

What the data measures

This data measures:

  • the percentage of people aged 3 and over in each ethnic group who speak English or Welsh as their main language
  • how well people speak English, if it’s not their first language
  • the number of people who speak the most common 11 languages in England and Wales

Percentages are rounded to 1 decimal place. Numbers are rounded to the nearest thousand.

Not included in the data

This data does not include households that did not answer the question about ethnicity.

94% of households completed the 2011 Census. Of those, 97% answered the question about ethnicity.

The data has been adjusted to take into account people and households who were not counted or counted incorrectly.

The ethnic groups used in the data

Data is shown for the 18 ethnic groups used in the 2011 Census.

Methodology

Read the detailed methodology document for this data.

People completing the Census judged for themselves whether they spoke English very well, well, not very well, or not at all. Their English language skills were not tested.

People living in Wales were asked whether they spoke ‘English or Welsh’ or ‘Other’ (rather than just ‘English’ or ‘Other’). Only respondents selecting ‘Other’ were then asked how well they spoke English, so for the purposes of this analysis Welsh speakers are grouped with English speakers.

3. By ethnicity

Percentage of people in each level of English language skills by ethnicity
Ethnicity Main language is English/Welsh Other main language: could speak English very well or well Other main language: could not speak English well Other main language: could not speak English
All 92.3 6.1 1.3 0.3
White British 99.7 0.2 0.0 0.0
White Irish 98.5 1.3 0.2 0.0
White Gypsy/Traveller 90.8 5.0 3.3 0.9
Other White 35.9 51.9 10.6 1.6
Mixed White/Black Caribbean 98.2 1.5 0.3 0.1
Mixed White/Black African 83.0 14.2 2.3 0.4
Mixed White/Asian 90.4 7.7 1.7 0.3
Other Mixed 83.7 13.4 2.5 0.5
Asian Indian 63.4 29.2 6.0 1.4
Asian Pakistani 61.7 27.2 9.1 2.1
Asian Bangladeshi 47.9 36.0 13.2 3.0
Asian Chinese 44.4 40.4 13.0 2.3
Asian other 42.4 47.9 8.4 1.3
Black African 71.9 24.4 3.3 0.5
Black Caribbean 98.5 1.2 0.2 0.1
Other Black 82.3 14.3 2.8 0.5
Arab 40.8 48.5 8.9 1.8
Any other 47.0 41.7 9.6 1.6

Download table data for ‘By ethnicity’ (CSV) Source data for ‘By ethnicity’ (CSV)

Summary of English language skills By ethnicity Summary

This data shows that:

  • 98.5% of people from both Black Caribbean and White Irish backgrounds spoke English as their main language – a higher percentage than any other group after White British (99.7%), and considerably higher than the 92.3% average for England and Wales

  • more than 6 in 10 people from an Indian or Pakistani background spoke English as their main language, and a further 3 in 10 didn't speak English as their main language but spoke it very well

  • less than half (47.9%) of people from a Bangladeshi background spoke English as their main language, 13.2% spoke English but not well, and 3.0% didn’t speak English at all

  • people from Other White backgrounds were the least likely to speak English as their main language (35.9% did so) and around 1 in 8 (12.2%) couldn’t speak English well, or at all

4. By ethnicity and sex

Percentage of people who couldn't speak English, or had poor English, by gender
Males Females
Ethnicity Males Could not speak English Males Could not speak English well Females Could not speak English Females Could not speak English well
All 0.2 1.2 0.3 1.5
White British 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
White Irish 0.0 0.2 0.0 0.2
White Gypsy/Traveller 0.9 3.1 0.9 3.4
Other White 1.5 11.0 1.7 10.3
Mixed White/Black Caribbean 0.1 0.3 0.1 0.3
Mixed White/Black African 0.3 1.9 0.5 2.8
Mixed White/Asian 0.2 1.6 0.4 1.8
Other Mixed 0.4 2.4 0.5 2.6
Asian Indian 0.6 4.0 2.2 8.1
Asian Pakistani 0.7 5.8 3.5 12.5
Asian Bangladeshi 1.1 9.7 5.0 16.9
Asian Chinese 2.1 13.4 2.4 12.6
Asian other 0.8 7.0 1.8 9.6
Black African 0.3 2.2 0.7 4.2
Black Caribbean 0.1 0.3 0.1 0.2
Other Black 0.4 1.9 0.7 3.8
Arab 1.1 6.6 2.8 12.1
Any other 1.1 8.0 2.2 11.5

Download table data for ‘By ethnicity and sex’ (CSV) Source data for ‘By ethnicity and sex’ (CSV)

Summary of English language skills By ethnicity and sex Summary

This data shows that:

  • while just 1.6% of the population (863,000 people) couldn’t speak English well or at all, around 6 in 10 of these were girls or women (510,000 people)
  • the Chinese ethnic group had the highest percentage of boys and men with poor English language skills, at 15.5%
  • the Bangladeshi ethnic group had the highest percentage of girls and women with poor English language skills, at 21.9%
  • the biggest gender differences in English language skills were in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic groups: 16.0% of Pakistani girls and women couldn’t speak English well or at all, compared with 6.5% of boys and men, while 21.9% of Bangladeshi girls and women couldn’t speak English well or at all, compared with 10.8% of boys and men

5. By ethnicity and area

Percentage of people who couldn't speak English, by ethnicity and region
Ethnicity North East North West Yorkshire and The Humber East Midlands West Midlands East of England London South East South West Wales
White British 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
White Irish 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0
White Gypsy/Traveller 0.6 1.2 1.7 1.5 0.8 0.5 2.6 0.3 0.3 0.4
Other White 1.7 1.9 2.7 2.5 2.3 1.8 1.3 1.1 1.3 2.5
Mixed White/Black Caribbean 0.1 0.0 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.2 0.1 0.1 0.1
Mixed White/Black African 0.2 0.2 0.6 0.2 0.4 0.3 0.6 0.2 0.2 0.2
Mixed White/Asian 0.2 0.2 0.4 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.5 0.1 0.2 0.3
Other Mixed 0.3 0.4 0.7 0.5 0.8 0.4 0.6 0.2 0.2 0.2
Asian Indian 0.5 1.2 1.1 2.5 1.7 0.6 1.3 0.7 0.5 0.6
Asian Pakistani 1.3 2.0 2.7 2.0 2.8 1.9 1.1 1.6 0.7 1.2
Asian Bangladeshi 2.6 3.5 3.3 2.6 3.5 2.5 3.1 1.9 1.5 2.7
Asian Chinese 2.7 3.2 2.4 1.7 2.8 1.9 2.2 1.8 1.7 2.9
Asian other 0.6 1.3 1.5 1.4 2.0 0.7 1.4 1.3 0.8 1.2
Black African 0.4 0.7 0.7 0.5 0.6 0.2 0.5 0.2 0.7 0.9
Black Caribbean 0.3 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1
Other Black 1.0 0.6 0.8 0.5 0.4 0.2 0.6 0.4 0.7 1.5
Arab 3.0 2.2 2.8 2.4 2.8 1.6 1.4 1.0 1.2 2.8
Any other 1.0 1.3 2.2 2.0 2.1 0.8 1.7 1.0 1.4 2.3

Download table data for ‘By ethnicity and area’ (CSV) Source data for ‘By ethnicity and area’ (CSV)

Summary of English language skills By ethnicity and area Summary

This data shows that:

  • overall, the Bangladeshi ethnic group had the highest percentage of people unable to speak English, with the highest percentages found in the West Midlands (3.5%), the North West (3.5%), Yorkshire and the Humber (3.5%) and London (3.1%)

  • in general, across all ethnic groups, the lowest percentages of people unable to speak English were found in the East of England, South East and South West regions

6. By ethnicity, sex and age

Percentage of people who couldn't speak English, by ethnicity, sex and age
3 to 9 years 10 to 24 years 25 to 44 years 45 to 64 years 65 years and over
Ethnicity 3 to 9 years Males 3 to 9 years Females 10 to 24 years Males 10 to 24 years Females 25 to 44 years Males 25 to 44 years Females 45 to 64 years Males 45 to 64 years Females 65 years and over Males 65 years and over Females
Asian
Bangladeshi 1.2 1.0 0.3 0.7 0.9 2.8 2.5 17.4 5.5 44.9
Chinese 2.1 1.9 0.3 0.3 2.1 1.2 3.0 3.0 11.5 22.8
Indian 0.6 0.5 0.2 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.6 2.0 2.9 16.2
Pakistani 0.8 0.7 0.3 0.5 0.5 1.5 0.8 9.0 3.9 31.0
Asian other 1.9 1.7 0.5 0.5 0.5 0.9 0.7 2.5 4.0 12.4
Black
Black African 0.6 0.5 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.3 0.2 0.6 1.7 10.2
Black Caribbean 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.0 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.0 0.1
Black other 0.7 0.5 0.2 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.3 0.6 1.6 8.1
Mixed
Mixed White/Asian 0.3 0.3 0.1 0.1 0.3 0.4 0.3 0.6 0.4 2.0
Mixed White/Black African 0.5 0.4 0.1 0.2 0.2 0.3 0.2 0.9 2.0 5.6
Mixed White/Black Caribbean 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.0 0.2 0.1 0.1 0.2 0.1 0.2
Mixed other 0.5 0.6 0.2 0.2 0.4 0.5 0.8 0.9 0.6 1.7
White
White British 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
White Irish 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
White Gypsy/Traveller 2.4 2.1 0.5 0.5 0.9 1.0 0.7 0.9 0.4 0.4
White other 5.1 4.7 0.8 0.8 0.9 0.9 2.3 2.9 1.5 3.5
Other
Arab 4.4 4.2 0.4 1.1 0.6 2.0 0.7 3.1 2.6 17.5
Any other 2.2 2.3 0.8 0.7 0.7 1.2 1.1 2.6 4.3 12.5

Download table data for ‘By ethnicity, sex and age’ (CSV) Source data for ‘By ethnicity, sex and age’ (CSV)

Summary of English language skills By ethnicity, sex and age Summary

This data shows that:

  • across most ethnic groups, women were more likely than men to be unable to speak English – and the likelihood increased with age

  • 44.9% of Bangladeshi women aged 65 and over (3,500 people) couldn’t speak English, making them the single group of people most likely to be unable to do so

  • by comparison, only 5.5% of Bangladeshi males aged 65 and over, and 0.8% of female Bangladeshi children aged under 25, couldn’t speak English

  • people in the Black Caribbean and Mixed White and Black Caribbean ethnic groups had similar (and very small) proportions of people who could not speak English, regardless of sex or age

7. Other languages spoken

Number of speakers (1,000s) of main languages
Language '000s
English (English or Welsh in Wales) 49,808
Polish 546
Panjabi 273
Urdu 269
Bengali (with Sylheti and Chatgaya) 221
Gujarati 213
Arabic 159
French 147
Chinese (other than Mandarin and Cantonese) 141
Portuguese 133
Spanish 120

Download table data for ‘Other languages spoken’ (CSV) Source data for ‘Other languages spoken’ (CSV)

Summary of English language skills Other languages spoken Summary

This data shows that:

  • Polish was the most commonly spoken language after English, with 546,000 people (1% of the population) reporting it as their main language

  • after English and Polish, the most commonly spoken languages were Panjabi and Urdu, with 273,000 and 269,000 speakers respectively

8. Data sources

Source

Type of data

Survey data

Type of statistic

National Statistics

Publisher

Office for National Statistics

Publication frequency

Every 10 years

Purpose of data source

The Census is carried out every 10 years. The last one took place in March 2011.

Census data gives the government the information it needs to plan and run public services. It is also used as a benchmark for other statistical estimates, and it can help illustrate differences between various groups in the population.

9. Download the data

English language skills - Spreadsheet (csv) 4 MB

This file contains: Region code, Region name, Time, Gender, Age group, Ethnicity, Language proficiency, Count, Percentage