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Census 2011: Half a million people speak a language other than English at home

Polish was by far the most common foreign language spoken in the home, followed by French, Lithuanian and German.

MORE THAN HALF a million people resident in Ireland speak a language other than English at home, data collected in 2011 has revealed.

Last year’s census marked the first time a question on foreign languages was asked, which covered both foreign languages spoken at home, and how well those who spoke foreign languages at home could speak English.

More than half a million Irish residents (514,068 people) said that they spoke a foreign language at home, with Polish being by far the most common, followed by French, Lithuanian and German.

Of those who spoke French at home, 73 per cent were Irish nationals, 14 per cent were French nationals, and 8 per cent were from Africa.

Of those who spoke Russian at home, only 13 per cent were Russian nationals. Irish nationals made up 20 per cent of those speaking Russian at home, while Latvians accounted for 27 per cent and Lithuanians accounted for 14 per cent.

More than a quarter of those who spoke a foreign language at home were born in Ireland, with 46.1 per cent of this group being pre-school children (13,690), primary school children (21,187) and secondary school children (21,187). French was by far the most popular language spoken by Irish-born speakers of foreign languages, while German and Russian being the next most popular choices.

Meanwhile, the number of people able to speak the Irish language increased by 7.1 per cent between 2006 and 2011, reaching 1.77 million in April 2011. (See here for a specific breakdown of Irish language data.)

English language ability

The census asked those who spoke a foreign language at home about their English language speaking abilities, and broke down abilities into four categories: “very well”, “well”, “not well”, and “not at all”.

One in six people (89,561) ticked “not well” or “not at all”. Of those, 30 per cent were Lithuanian nationals and 29 per cent were Latvian nationals.

The figures were broken down by age in order to assess the impact of the ability to speak English on service provision, particularly in the area of education. The data showed that of the 16,870 pre-school children (aged 3-4 years) who spoke a foreign language at home just under 12 per cent could not speak English at all, and a further 27.8 per cent could not speak English well.

However, ability improves quickly once children enter school, with just one per cent saying they could not speak English at all in primary school, and less than 1 per cent in secondary school.


The period between 2002 and 2006 saw fast growth in the number of non-Irish nationals in Ireland, with the number almost doubled from 224,300 to 419,733 in just four years.

The number of Polish nationals increased by 93.7 per cent, from 63,276 to 122,585, overtaking UK nationals as the largest non-Irish group living in the country.

Other groups that showed large increases were Latvians (up 54.6 per cent), Lithuanians (up 48.9 per cent), Romanians (up 124.8 per cent), Brazilians (up 98.4 per cent) and Indians (up 100.8 per cent).

There was a greater number of non-Irish women than non-Irish men in the country, with an increase of 39.0 per cent (76,500) and 21.5 per cent (48,200)  respectively since 2006.

In terms of ethnicity, the census marked a significant growth in non-Irish ethnic groups. Between the years 2006 and 2011 the category ‘Other White’ rose by almost 43 per cent, which is largely due to immigration from Eastern European countries.

There was an 87 per cent rise in the ‘Other Asian’ ethnic group, which included those of Indian and Filipino origin, while there was 8 per cent rise in the number of those of Chinese ethnicity.

The number of Irish Travellers documented in the census also showed a significant increase of 32 per cent.

Here are the highlights of Census 2011>

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