Dear Dr. Wallace:

I just returned home from Santa Barbara, California. Five of us spent a fun week there escaping the terrible recent weather in Madison, Wisconsin. We’re sophomores at the University of Wisconsin.

This was our first time in California, and we were surprised at the number of people who spoke Spanish there. Some of the stores even had advertising in both English and Spanish. How many Spanish-speaking people live in the U.S.?

— Tamika,

Madison, Wisconsin

Dear Tamika: In the United States, there are more than 350 different languages spoken at home, and Spanish ranks No. 1 as the most commonly spoken non-English language in our country. Following Spanish, the primary languages spoken in the U.S. (in order) are Chinese, French and Tagalog.

According to 2015 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, over 37 million people over the age of 5 spoke Spanish at home, which makes it the second most commonly spoken language in the U.S. by far. After Mexico, the United States actually has the second largest Spanish-speaking population in the world.

The U.S. is unique and strong precisely because of its diversity: We’re a mixture of people from every corner of this planet. Most immigrants do not speak English in their native country but do learn to speak it once in America. A significant portion of America’s population is bilingual.

“In the 1600s and 1700s, Spanish explorations and settlements extended the Spanish language north from Mexico into present-day Arizona, California, southern Colorado, New Mexico and Texas,” according to the Accredited Language Services website.

Write to Dr. Wallace at rwallace@galesburg.net.