Tuesday, May 6, 2008

English Usage Among Hispanics in the United States

Pew Hispanic Center pewhispanic.org

English Usage Among Hispanics in the United States

Shirin Hakimzadeh and D'Vera Cohn, Pew Hispanic Center

Revised 12-06-07 to add the following note to Figure 13: "Puerto
Ricans are excluded from the estimates in this figure."

Nearly all Hispanic adults born in the United States of immigrant
parents report they are fluent in English. By contrast, only a small
minority of their parents describe themselves as skilled English
speakers. This finding of a dramatic increase in English-language
ability from one generation of Hispanics to the next emerges from a
new analysis of six Pew Hispanic Center surveys conducted this decade
among a total of more than 14,000 Latino adults. The surveys show that
fewer than one-in-four (23%) Latino immigrants reports being able to
speak English very well. However, fully 88% of their U.S.-born adult
children report that they speak English very well. Among later
generations of Hispanic adults, the figure rises to 94%. Reading
ability in English shows a similar trend.

As fluency in English increases across generations, so, too, does the
regular use of English by Hispanics, both at home and at work. For
most immigrants, English is not the primary language they use in
either setting. But for their grown children, it is.

The surveys also find that Latino immigrants are more likely to speak
English very well, and to use it often, if they are highly educated,
arrived in the United States as children or have spent many years
here. College education, in particular, plays an important role in the
ability to speak and read English. Among the major Hispanic origin
groups, Puerto Ricans and South Americans are the most likely to say
they are proficient in English; Mexicans are the least likely to say so.

The transition to English dominance occurs at a slower pace at home
than it does at work. Just 7% of foreign-born Hispanics speak mainly
or only English at home; about half of their adult children do. By
contrast, four times as many foreign-born Latinos speak mainly or only
English at work (29%). Fewer than half (43%) of foreign-born Latinos
speak mainly or only Spanish on the job, versus the three-quarters who
do so at home.

The main data sources for this report are six surveys conducted for
the Pew Hispanic Center from April 2002 to October 2006. They included
interviews with more than 14,000 native-born and foreign-born Latino
adults, ages 18 and older, irrespective of legal status. Latinos born
in Puerto Rico, many of whom arrive on the U.S. mainland as Spanish
speakers, are included as foreign born.

In analyzing the data on English use and prevalence from these
surveys, this report relies on four measures based on respondents'
ratings of their English-speaking skills, their English-reading
skills, their level of English use at home, and their level of English
use at work.

Two of these surveys, along with a more recent nationwide survey of
Latinos taken by the Pew Hispanic Center in October and November of
this year, also provide a clear measure of how Hispanics believe that
insufficient English language skill is an obstacle to their acceptance
in the U.S. In surveys taken in 2007, 2006 and 2002, respondents were
asked about potential sources of discrimination against Hispanics. In
all three surveys, language skills was chosen more often than the
other options as a cause of discrimination.

Copyright © 2008 Pew Hispanic Center
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