In New York walking around the streets and listening from different languages is absolutely normal. The dynamism, heterogeneity, and vibrancy of the City are perfectly reflected in its population. Over 8 million people live in New York and more than 1/3 weren’t born in New York and/or in the United States. Because many of those people are a “first generation” of immigrants (it means that they weren’t born in the US but in their native country) it is easy to understand that they used to preserve both their traditions and languages. That is why the image you can see as the header of this article has all those colors – and it reflects all the NYC languages, except English and Spanish!
In this regard, let me tell you that in some areas of New York City, English is spoken by just a few people and even the shop signs are not written in English. For example, if you walk around Jackson Heights in Queens, you can easily get confused while assuming to be in some Latin American barrios. The same situation can happen in Chinatown, where restaurants and stores have Chinese menus and signs.
Even among the second generations (people that were born in the US, but their parents emigrated from their original countries) the use of the Italian, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, etc. is normal and is used mostly within the family. Therefore, many people are bi-lingual – and it creates an incredible added value for the city of New York. Why? Because it allows businesses to potentially reach each part of the world and of course, it allows to the City itself to be interconnected with the rest of the world.
The most variegated neighborhoods in New York City, in terms of languages, are definitely Brooklyn, Queens, and The Bronx. As the map is able to show, a certain language is spoken in certain areas: because I am Italian, I can tell you that a lot of Italian native speakers are concentrated in the south and southwest of Brooklyn as well as the southwest of Staten Island – moreover, a huge Italian community lives in the north of The Bronx and is actually expanding because of the first generation of Italians that are moving into the City for work purposes.
Having said that, it is funny how it is easy to enter into a store and receive a “Hola” instead of an expected “Hello”. Sometimes, people used to refer to you in another language, that is usually Spanish in my area, assuming that – because you live there, you are automatically from a country…Spanish native speaker! In conclusion, let’s say that nothing as New York City teaches you that more languages you know and more opportunities to communicate you have!
Jackson Heights, Queens (Spanish)
Korea Town, Manhattan (Korean)
Chinatown, Manhattan (murales)
Little Italy, Manhattan (Italian)