Linguistic isolation: Equitable regions ensure their residents who do not speak English can access needed services.

Insights & Analyses

  • The share of linguistically isolated households increased between 2000 and 2010 and dropped slightly between 2010 and 2019 in the Nine-County Bay Area and statewide.
  • The region has a slightly lower share of linguistically isolated households compared to the share statewide.
  • Households speaking Asian or Pacific Islander languages are most likely to be linguistically isolated regionwide, and households speaking Indo-European languages (other than Spanish) are least likely.
  • San Francisco County has the highest share of linguistically isolated households in the region (11 percent) and Marin County has the lowest share (4 percent).

Drivers of Inequity

Nearly one in ten households in the Bay Area do not speak English well or at all. These linguistically isolated households largely speak Asian languages or Spanish. On average, these households have lower levels of educational attainment, which affects gainful employment, and struggle with poverty and access to health care. Children in these households are also affected, as English language learners often live in linguistically isolated households and tend to have lower high school graduation rates than their peers.


Build community power: Strategies to ensure all residents can fully participate in the economy

Strategy in Action

The Language Access Ordinance in San Francisco ensures equal access to public services for limited-English speakers. More than 160 languages are spoken in the Bay Area, and more than 40 in San Francisco alone. In 2001, the city enacted an equal access to services ordinance to ensure that residents with limited English proficiency — more than one in five people over the age of five — could access the same level of service as their English-speaking peers. In 2009, the ordinance was amended and became the Language Access Ordinance (LAO), reflecting one of the strongest language access laws in the United States. The LAO requires that major city departments provide sufficient bilingual staff, translate written materials, and post public notices of their availability in Spanish, Chinese, and Tagalog. All city departments are required to inform limited-English speakers of their right to interpretation, in their native language, for any language spoken in San Francisco. With 48 hours of advance request, all public meetings and hearings are required to provide oral interpretation. Learn more.


Photo: Jhon David/Unsplash

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