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Public Repository to Engage Community and Enhance Design Equity

Linguistic Isolation


Linguistic isolation refers to households that speak limited English. A household is linguistically isolated if i) there are no members 14 or older who speak English or ii) the members 14 or older who speak another language do not speak English very well.

Context/Impact on Health

Many immigrants move to America as their new home. However, many of these individuals and families do not speak English prior to entering the country. Learning a new language is an arduous task, and as a result, many immigrants have limited vocabulary or cannot speak English altogether. This creates language barriers that interfere with everyday life. Speaking limited or no English has repercussions on a person’s wellbeing and health. Individuals who cannot speak English proficiently may not seek out healthcare due to language barriers. Additionally, health promotion campaigns may miss these individuals due to their inability to understand English. Children of individuals also may not receive adequate health care due to language barriers faced by both them and their parents. For instance, a child may be suffering from a certain ailment and their parents, who already seldom seek help for themselves, may not seek adequate care, whether due to language barriers that prevent them from describing the condition, lack of health literacy, or both. Efforts to reach these communities should involve bringing in translators to bridge the gap between the linguistically isolated and healthcare providers. Within the built environment, health promoting places may be unknown by those experiencing linguistic isolation (e.g., parks, public transport, bike shares, public spaces for rest/recuperation), thus  multiple languages should be integrated into signage, maps, or other informational materials.

Data Collection Methodology

The American Community Survey (ACS) is a nationwide survey that collects information on the demographic, social, economic, and housing characteristics of the US population. The ACS is an ongoing survey sent to 3.5 million addresses each year. The ACS collects information on the language spoken at home using 3 questions: “Does this person speak a language other than English at home?”, “What is this language?”, “How well does this person speak English?”.


Click here for References
  1. Linguistically Isolation Data Source: US Census Bureau. ACS: Only English. Data year 2019. Accessed April 2023.
  2. US Census Bureau. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Language Use. Revised December 16, 2021. Accessed October 19, 2023.
  3. Zhang D, Rajbhandari-Thapa J, Panda S, et al. Linguistic Isolation and Mortality in Older Mexican Americans: Findings from the Hispanic Established Populations Epidemiologic Studies of the Elderly. Health Equity. 2021;5(1):375-381. Published 2021 Jun 1. doi:10.1089/heq.2020.0139
  4. Flores G, Abreu M, Tomany-Korman SC. Limited English proficiency, primary language at home, and disparities in children’s health care: how language barriers are measured matters. Public Health Rep. 2005;120(4):418-430.