Learn a Language on a Road Trip across America
Did you know there are 350 languages spoken in the United States? Although the main language is English, hit the streets and you’ll hear everything from Spanish to German, Tagalog to Cantonese.
And that’s not just from the tourists. Historic immigration has brought people into the country and their languages have come with them. Now, you’ll find communities across the country where languages—and their culture, food, and history—thrive.
Soak up some language inspiration without crossing borders.
Top US Road Trips to Practice Languages
Spanish Language in the United States
After English, Spanish is the most common language spoken in the U.S. with over 40 million Spanish speakers. That’s more than there are in Spain!
And it’s no surprise with Mexico just across the border. Some states in the southwest were owned by Mexico until the mid-1800s.
To soak up Spanish without leaving the country, head to the southern states of Florida, Arizona, Texas, or California.
Road Trip for Spanish Language Learners:
We suggest the 500-mile drive down California’s sunny Pacific coast to take in the ocean views, gorgeous landscapes, and Spanish influences.
Start in San Francisco and drive south along the coast through Santa Barbara and Los Angeles before finishing in San Diego, all aptly named in Spanish. Along the way, take in Spanish colonial architecture, feast on tacos and enchiladas, and head to Latino neighborhoods to hear Spanish being spoken on the streets.
A string of 21 Spanish missions lines the California coast, dating from the mid-1700s. These missions retain their strong Spanish influence and serve as both contemporary cultural hubs as well as reminders and preservers of an often brutal history. The prevalence of Spanish architecture throughout the western US was established by the missions.
Visit the California Missions website for more history and information on the missions.
While in Los Angeles, head to Olvera Street (Calle Olvera), the oldest street in Los Angeles and site of the original Spanish settlement, El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora Reina de los Ángeles. Today the area is known for its Mexican-style outdoor marketplace and puestos (street food stalls), along with a variety of museums and cultural events.
French Language in the United States
There are over a million people who speak French at home in the U.S, and that includes dialects such as Patois and Cajun. You’ll find the largest Francophone communities in Louisiana and Maine.
France owned Louisiana in the 17th century bringing emigrants from Europe and slaves from French-speaking African countries. You can still hear their influence through the Louisiana Creole and Cajun spoken in the area. Although the dialect is different from the French you’d hear on the streets of Paris, you should be able to understand what’s being said.
In the north, there are many French-speaking communities in Maine. Not only does the state share a border with French-speaking Quebec in Canada, but there are also descendants of French-speaking Acadians who settled here.
Road Trip Idea for French Language Learners:
Tour the French-speaking south with a short two-hour drive from New Orleans to Lafayette, the capital of Cajun country. Along the way take in the architecture of the French Quarter in New Orleans, learn about the Francophone history of the area at the Arcadian Museum in Erath, and taste Cajun food in Lafayette.
Indigenous Languages of North America
Navajo and Ojibwe
Though many languages were imported from abroad, we can’t forget the indigenous languages of Native Americans, including Navajo and Ojibwe.
The most spoken indigenous language in the United States is Navajo with an estimated 170,000 speakers, most of whom live in the southwestern states of New Mexico and Arizona.
Approximately 50,000 people in the United States speak Ojibwe, primarily in communities along the Canadian border from Michigan to North Dakota and Montana.
Though the number of indigenous language speakers has been declining, as most Native Americans learn only English, there are now several language revitalization initiatives working to keep these languages from dying out.
Road Trip Idea for Navajo Language Learners:
German Language in the United States
German learners don’t need to fly to Europe to hear some native German. Head east to Pennsylvania to speak with the Pennsylvania Dutch people.
Despite the name, these communities don’t actually speak Dutch, but instead a dialect of German—it’s thought the Dutch name stuck after a mistranslation of Deutsche.
The Pennsylvania Dutch are descendants of German immigrants who settled in the state in the 1800s and they now mostly belong to Amish and Mennonite communities.
Road Trip Idea for German Language Learners:
Drive through Pennsylvania Dutch country in Pennsylvania. Start off in Lancaster with a visit to the Landis Valley Museum then drive east towards Philadelphia.
You’ll drive through open countryside, past covered bridges and road-side farmers markets and you should even spot the odd Amish buggy or two. You can book tours with Pennsylvania Dutch communities for a deeper insight into the culture and language.
Chinese Languages in the United States
Mandarin and Cantonese
With nearly 3 million speakers, the Chinese languages, including Mandarin Cantonese and other varieties, are, collectively, the third most spoken language in the U.S. after English and Spanish.
In 2018, China replaced Mexico as the leading country of origin for immigrants to the United States, with the majority speaking Mandarin.
Most Chinese speakers live in California and New York but you can also find large Cantonese and Mandarin-speaking communities in Texas, Utah, and Washington.
Road Trip Idea for Chinese Language Learners:
You don’t need to go far to hear some native Chinese, most metropolitan cities in the U.S. will have a Chinatown. But if you’re looking for an epic driving adventure and to practice your Cantonese or Mandarin along the way, why not drive from the largest Chinese-speaking community in the country to the other: San Francisco, the oldest Chinatown in the U.S., to New York City, the largest Chinatown in the U.S.
If you’ve got time to spare, you can check out the Chinatowns in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia along the way.
Learn a Language on the Road
Want to brush up on a language before heading on these language-inspired road trips in the USA?
Download Pimsleur’s research-based language learning app to get started.
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