• Mapper Monday

Languages of London

Updated: Feb 9, 2021

I moved to London a few years ago and have explored much of it on foot and public transport. London is, of course, a melting pot of people and cultures. As someone who has travelled across the globe I actively seek out migrant communities in London to experience the food and culture. With immigrant people come languages and a BBC article from 2014 reports that over 300 languages are spoken in London's schools.

I was interested to see where those mother tongues are distributed spatially around the Greater London area. The 2011 Population Census contains a question about which language is spoken in the home. I've used that as the basis for this spatial analysis.

The maps use census data down at the finest level - output areas (OAs) - of which there are over 25,000 making up the Greater London administrative area. Instead of using shading, I have reflected the data as heat maps which illustrate where there is a greater likelihood of hearing a particular language and as such gives an indication of where particular immigrant communities have developed. Some are more concentrated geographically than others and I demonstrate that with some illustrative cases.

The Data

Firstly some numbers. These are the figures from the 2011 census that show the prevalence of languages spoken at home (only those stated by over 1000 people).

Polish - 147787

Bengali - 114152 (typically from Bangladesh and Indian West Bengal)

Gujarati - 101667 (mostly from Indian Gujarat)

French - 84036 (will include French speakers from former French colonies)

Urdu - 78667 (typically from Pakistan and Northwest India)

Portuguese - 71748 (will include Brazilians and other ex-Portuguese colonies)

Turkish - 71229

Spanish - 71065 (will include South Americans and ex-Spanish colonies)

Arabic - 70577

Tamil - 70556 (typically from Indian Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka)

Punjabi - 68525 (typically from Eastern Pakistan and North West India)

Somali - 54851

Italian - 49404

Romanian - 39645

Farsi - 39364

Lithuanian - 35328

German - 31220

Greek - 26866

Russian - 26561

Filipino - 25849

Bulgarian - 23018

Albanian - 22998

Hindi - 21492

Nepalese - 19388

Japanese - 17005

Hungarian - 16566

Kurdish - 15227

Pashto - 15094 (typically from Afghanistan)

Akan - 13185 (typically from Ghana)

Cantonese Chinese - 12317

Slovak - 10443

Swedish - 10398

Yoruba - 10119 (typically from Nigeria)

Dutch - 9573

Malayalam - 9201 (typically from South West India around Kerela)

Korean - 8240

Vietnamese - 8084

Sinhala - 7944 (typically from Sri Lanka)

Tigrinya - 7203 (typically from Eritrea & Ethiopia)

Bosnian - 7001

Thai - 6848

Czech - 6769

Mandarin Chinese - 6701

Kiswahili - 6334 (typically from East and Southern Africa)

Amharic - 6170 (typically from Ethiopia)

Telugu - 5566 (typically from Indian Andhra Pradesh & Telangana)

Igbo - 5252 (typically from Nigeria)

Latvian - 4452

Hebrew - 4399

Danish - 4168

Afrikaans - 4102 (typically from South Africa & Namibia)

Lingala - 3335 (typically from Democratic Republic of Congo & Central African Republic)

Shona - 3032 (typically from Zimbabwe)

Ukranian - 2991

Malay - 2811 (typically from Malaysia, Indonesia & Singapore)

Finnish - 2793

Luganda - 2570 (typically from Uganda)

Marathi - 2527 (typically from Indian Maharashtra)

Estonian - 1193

Maltese - 1055

The Maps - Modern European Migration

The first maps look at examples of modern immigration to the UK from the European Union. When the EU was expanded on 01-May 2004 nationals from Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia & Slovenia could choose to live and work across the EU. There are some distinct contrasts in where, and in what concentration, each of these groups came to reside in London.

Polish migrants would appear to have settled in concentrations all across London - more to the north than south but nevertheless widely scattered and with multiple hot-spots/clusters. Lithuanians by contrast, despite living across wide parts of London are relatively heavily concentrated in East & North East London with a focus between Stratford and London Docklands.




Romanians were part of the second wave of modern migration from the EU (along with Bulgarians). Their dispersal shows a strong concentration in North West London and in East/North East London.

The Maps - Turkey & The Middle East


Migration of Turkish speakers to the UK began in significant numbers after Great Britain annexed Cyprus in 1914. Two-thirds of Turkish speakers in the UK are Turkish-Cypriots (source: Wikipedia). The distribution of Turkish speakers shows a significant concentration in North London from Dalston north along the A10 up through Stoke Newington and on to Tottenham. Anyone who enjoys a kebab will understand this spatial distribution.


Arabic is another spatial pattern that can be understood with reference to the number of Middle Eastern restaurants in the area - namely Edgware Road & Paddington.

The Maps - Indian Sub-Continent mid-20th Century Migration

Migration from the Indian sub-continent occurred largely in the second half of the 20th century following the departure of The British from India and the partitioning of the country to create India and Pakistan. Workers were recruited to fill the labour shortages that occurred as a result of the human losses of World War II. Wikipedia has a summary. The main languages of these migrants are - in order of prevalence - Bengali, Gujarati, Urdu & Punjabi. I've not included Tamil here as many of these migrants came from Sri Lanka fleeing the civil war in the 80s and 90s.

Bengalis tend to live in the East End from Whitechapel up towards Mile End. London's famous Brick Lane is in this area and is synonymous with Bengali restaurants. Urdu speakers tend to live in East London but somewhat further out with greatest concentrations around Plaistow & West/East Ham. There are also lesser concentrations of Urdu speakers in West and South-west London. There are three distinct Gujarati concentrations around Wembley, Queensbury (on the Jubilee Line towards Stanmore) and again along the District Line around Plaistow. Punjabi is concentrated in Southall with additional clusters out in the east from Plaistow towards Ilford.






The analysis in the maps contains data extracted from the UK 2011 Population Census. The following citation is required to acknowledge the use of this data.

Office for National Statistics ; National Records of Scotland ; Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (2016): 2011 Census aggregate data. UK Data Service (Edition: June 2016). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5257/census/aggregate-2011-1

This information is licensed under the terms of the Open Government Licence [http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/3]

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