Languages Spoken in Multnomah County

by Jake Procino

December 21, 2023

Multnomah County is the most racially and ethnically diverse county in Oregon. It is home to individuals and families with a variety of different backgrounds. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated there were at least 102 unique languages spoken in households across the county in 2021. The number of people in Multnomah County who spoke a language other than English (LOTE) at home tripled over the last 30 years from 50,000 (9% of the population) in 1990 to 151,000 (20%) in 2021, according to the Census.  

Graph showing Language Spoken at Home in Multnomah County

Expectedly, most people spoke English at home in the county. Of the nearly 800,000 people in Multnomah, 576,000 residents reported speaking only English at home, accounting for 72% of the population. Of the remaining 28%, the four other most common languages in the county in 2021 were Spanish, Vietnamese, Russian, and Chinese. 

Table showing Ten Most Commonly Spoken Languages Other Than English in Multnomah County: 2021

With the Hispanic population being the largest minority group in Multnomah County (as well as in Oregon and in the U.S.), it is unsurprising that Spanish is the second most common language spoken in the county. There are an estimated 87,000 Spanish speakers in the county, accounting for about 11% of the total population. According to the Migration Policy Center (MPI), migration to the U.S. from Mexico and Spanish-speaking countries in Central America has been a longstanding phenomenon due to close cultural, geographic, and trade ties. Immigration from South America is a small portion of total immigration, but has been increasing in recent years, according to MPI

Vietnamese is the third most common language spoken in the county with an estimated 20,000 speakers. According to the MPI, a large number of refugees came to the U.S. after 1975 with the end of the Vietnam War. In more recent years, however, MPI says that the vast majority of immigrants from Vietnam come through family reunification channels. 

Russian is the fourth most common language in Multnomah with an estimated 14,000 speakers. A 2014 report detailing the Slavic Community in Multnomah County, produced by the Coalition of Communities of Color and Portland State University, stated that the Slavic Community (who mostly speak Russian) moved to Oregon in several waves: (1) In the early 1900s when Russian Orthodox members fled persecution; (2) around 1922 during the Russian Revolution; and (3) around 1991 during the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

Chinese (a grouping which here includes Mandarin, Cantonese, and other related dialects) is the fifth most common language in the county with an estimated 7,000 speakers. Chinese immigrants have been migrating to Oregon at various levels for social, economic, and familial reasons since 1850, according to the Oregon Historical Society.

Graph showing Historical Immigration to the U.S. Grouped by Primary Language of Origin Country

Characteristics of the Population by Language Spoken at Home

Looking at the characteristics of the people who speak the five most common languages in Multnomah, Spanish and Russian speakers tend to be younger. Spanish and Russian had the greatest share of speakers ages 5-14 (18% and 16%, respectively) and the smallest share of speakers ages 60 and over (6% and 11%, respectively). 

English only, Chinese, and Vietnamese speakers tend to have older populations. They all had similarly small shares of speakers ages 5-14 (9%, 10%, and 11%, respectively) and larger shares of speakers ages 60 and over (22%, 22%, and 19%, respectively). 

Graph showing Most Commonly Spoken Languages at Home by Age in Multnomah County

Looking at educational attainment of speakers ages 25 and older, English only and Chinese have high shares of speakers with a bachelor’s degree or higher (52% and 47%, respectively). Chinese, Vietnamese, and Spanish have higher shares of speakers who did not graduate from high school (30%, 29%, and 28%, respectively).

Graph showing Most Commonly Spoken Languages at Home by Educational Attainment in Multnomah County: 2021

Employment status across the five most common languages did not differ too significantly across the different speaking populations. Chinese speakers had the lowest unemployment rate (4.3%) but also the lowest labor force participation rate (57.5%). Russian speakers had the highest unemployment rate estimated at 6.4%. Spanish speakers had the highest labor force participation rate estimated at 76.5%. 

Graph showing Most Commonly Spoken Language at Home by Employment Status in Multnomah County: 2021

English ability differs by population. According to ACS data, 54% of people who spoke Vietnamese at home spoke English “less than very well”, a higher rate than the other three common languages: Spanish 25%, Russian 36%, and Chinese 41%. 

This data shows that though much of the population does speak English very well, businesses and employers should consider hiring people who speak other languages or utilizing translation services in order to reach the whole population of Multnomah County. 
Graph showing Percentage that Speak English Less Than "Very Well" by Spoken Language in Multnomah County

Latest Items

Subscription Service

You can sign up to receive email notifications when publications have been updated or new articles are added for any geographic area you are interested in. You can receive new articles on a daily, weekly, or monthly schedule – whichever is most convenient for you.

Visit the subscription order form to sign up. It allows you to choose your preferences, and you can change those preferences – or unsubscribe – at any time.