Like New York City, London is one of the most linguistically diverse cities in the world. Almost two million people speak English as a second language, and across the city, Londoners speak about 300 different languages. A new map shows how those languages show up as you travel along local subway lines.
If you get out of the train at Whitechapel station, you’re pretty likely to run into someone who speaks Bengali. At West Acton station, you might meet someone who speaks Japanese. The map shows which language is most common after English at each station, with bigger circles for the most popular languages. It’s drawn in the same simple graphic style as the standard subway map at every station in the city.
“People in London have always had this strong association with their local tube station,” says Oliver O’Brien, a researcher at University College London, who created the map using new census data. “We thought that this would be a very visual way for people not to just look at a map and say, ‘Okay, it’s yet another one of these brightly colored maps,’ but instead focus on their local tube station, and really explore from there.”
Though London is known as a diverse city, O’Brien was still surprised to see how some of the languages mapped out. “I was surprised to see that there’s quite a lot of clustering of languages,” he says. “It’s really striking in parts of London which are not known for having particular concentrations of communities–still seeing those patterns pop out.”
In Stockwell, a popular neighborhood for recent graduates who have just moved to the city, Portuguese happens to be the most popular second language. In part of East London, there are several tube stops where Lithuanian is most common. “It’s striking to have seven or eight stops in a row all having that same second language,” O’Brien says. “I was expecting to see a map that was noisier, with more variations in language.”
O’Brien and fellow researchers plan to use the subway map format as a way to display more data. “We’re basically doing it to try and make a map more accessible to people who wouldn’t normally spend a lot of time looking at maps,” he says. “Londoners very much identify with the tube map as their narrative of how London is joined together.”
In another variation, researchers mapped out the most common jobs for residents by each station. Lawyers all tended to live around the same four or five subway stops. And in the wealthiest neighborhoods, like Chelsea, bodyguards had the most common job.
The subway mapping method isn’t perfect–for example, the train doesn’t go to Southeast London, so there’s no data for those neighborhoods. “Despite the obvious limitations of restricting a map to tube locations, it makes it a more understandable map,” he says. “I think that’s one reason why it’s been so popular.”