Mapping second first languages

Hello and Bonjour! I’m Jack, a developer on the app team at Datawrapper. Today we’re celebrating second place! 🥈

Growing up in France with British parents, I learned English at home before figuring out how to speak French at school.

This made me wonder: how many other people are in a similar situation? How many have a first language that is not the dominant and/or official language of their home country?

So with the help of a choropleth map and data from The World Atlas, The World Factbook, many Wikipedia articles, UNData, and the Eurobarometer survey, today I want to visualize the second most common first language in countries across Europe:

Some of the patterns are more expected than others. Notably, it's not surprising that countries bordering Russia tend to have Russian as the second most common native language (in Belarus, Russian even surpasses Belarusian in prevalence). The same goes for the Balkan countries: They tend to borrow from other Balkan languages.

Somewhat more unexpected, at least for me as a non-German, are the significant Turkish-speaking populations in Germany and Austria. I have since learned that ethnic Turks form the largest ethnic minority in Germany, as well as the largest Turkish population in the Turkish Diaspora. (For a historical perspective, I recommend the "Turks in Germany" Wikipedia article.)

Collecting good language data is hard 😮‍💨

One important but tricky distinction, I’ve found, needs to be made between the most common second language and the second most common first language in a country.

This nuance tripped me up and caused some inconsistencies in my first attempt at creating my map. For example, the most common second language in Iceland is English. It's understood by 98% of the population (making it even more widely understood than Icelandic at 93.2%). The second most common first language, however, is Polish, native to 2.74% of the country – versus 0.32% for English.

The quality of the data is also quite poor, unfortunately. The data was collected from many sources and different years, ranging from 2011 to 2022.

What’s more, the sources often don’t agree. For example: UNData has data from 2011 stating that 84.6% of Hungarians speak Hungarian as their first language, with a big share of the population having “not stated” their first language. Whereas, a 2012 Eurobarometer survey (PDF, page 11) told me that 99% of Hungarians speak Hungarian as the first language. This might be close to the truth: According to the 2011 Hungarian census cited in this Wikipedia article, the share is 98.9%.

This is to say, please don't use this data for anything important! While I (and my colleague Lisa - thanks!) have checked it for obvious inconsistencies, I can't guarantee accuracy or consistency between different countries.

I hope you enjoyed celebrating second place with me this week! Tune in next Thursday for a new Weekly Chart by Elliot from the visualization team.