LONDON (AP) — Polish is England's second language, according to statistics published Wednesday, a dramatic illustration of the wave of immigration that has brought nearly 1 million Eastern Europeans to the U.K. over the past decade.
Britain's Office of National Statistics said in its most recent report that Polish was considered the "main language" by nearly 550,000 people in England and Wales, or roughly 1 percent of the population. Because statisticians only began asking questions about foreign language use in the most recent census, there are no past figures available for use as reference, but the link to Eastern European immigration is clear.
Poles began arriving in Britain en masse after 2004, when eight Eastern European nations — Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovenia, and Estonia — joined the European Union, a development which would eventually give their citizens the right to move freely across the continent. But after countries including France and Germany imposed temporary blocks on immigration from their new European partners, many moved to Britain, whose booming economy lured hundreds of thousands to jobs in the service and construction sectors.
The flow slowed dramatically after Britain was hit by the Great Recession, but has picked again up since. By 2012 officials estimated that the population from the eight Eastern European countries had crossed the 1 million mark.
The new population has wrought changes across Britain, from Polish beers like Zywiec or Zamkowe Jasne served alongside British brews at London pubs to Polish food including pulpety and delicje now common across the aisles of major U.K. supermarkets. The influx of new arrivals — which was far greater than the government expected — has also drawn controversy, with many native Britons complaining about crowded schools and strained services.
Eastern Europeans are far from Britain's only immigrant community; other language figures published in Wednesday's report painted a snapshot of a nation with immigrants from across Europe and Asia.
Punjabi was England's third language, with roughly 275,000 people who consider it their main mode of communication, the statistics office said. Urdu, with 270,000 speakers, was the fourth. Both languages are native to the Indian subcontinent, as are Bengali and Gujarati, which come in at fifth and sixth respectively.
Arabic, French, and all forms of Chinese are also counted among England's commonly-spoken languages.
The agency said 562,000 people can speak Welsh, if not as their main language.