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English Fluency Rises in Second Generation Among Hispanics, Says Report

A dramatic increase in fluency in the English language from one generation of Hispanics to the next emerges from a new analysis of a Pew Hispanic Center survey.

In a report issued November 29, the center said surveys conducted this decade among  more than 14,000 Latino adults. show that fewer than one-in-four (23 percent) Latino immigrants reports being able to speak English very well. However, a notable 88 percent 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 percent. 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,” the Pew Center said. “For most immigrants, English is not the primary language they use in either setting. But for their grown children, it is.”

The center said nearly all adult children of Latino immigrants, but only a small minority of the immigrants, describe themselves as fluent in English.

It also found:

·    English is spoken more commonly at work than at home by all generations.

·            Hispanic immigrants report greater fluency in English if they are highly educated, arrived in the United States as children or have spent many years here.

·    Those born in Puerto Rico and South America are the most likely to say they are proficient in English.

·            Mexican-born immigrants are the least likely to be proficient in English.

The switch to English occurs at a slower pace at home than it does at work, the Pew Center said.

According to the study, just 7 percent of foreign-born Hispanics speak mainly or only English at home; about half of their adult children do. Four times as many foreign-born Latinos speak mainly or only English at work (29 per cent) and fewer than half (43 percent ) of foreign-born Latinos speak mainly or only Spanish on the job, versus the three-quarters who do so at home.

Six surveys conducted for the Pew Hispanic Center from April 2002 to October 2006 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, the report was 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 measure how Hispanics believe that insufficient English language skill is an obstacle to acceptance in the U.S. In surveys in 2007, 2006 and 2002, respondents were asked about sources of discrimination against Hispanics. In all three, language skills was chosen most often as a cause of discrimination.

“From our research we see that English is the most dominant among later generations of Hispanic adults. The Spanish doesn’t vanish from generation to generation. The English simply becomes more pronounced,” says D’Vera Cohn, co-author of the report and a senior writer at the Pew Research Center.

Commenting on the survey, U.S. English, Inc. chairman Mauro E. Mujica said the Pew Center’s findings were troubling. “While we can always expect the first generation to struggle with learning English, the fact that more than 7-in-10 Mexican immigrants barely speak the common language of this country is evidence of a major social challenge. It also serves as a clear rebuttal to those who say that we do not have a “language problem” in the United States.

U.S. English advocates legislation to specify English as the official language of the nation.

“These immigrants are unable to experience the job opportunities available to English speakers,” the chairman said. “Furthermore, their inability to speak English also affects the development of future generations, keeping them from assisting their kids in navigating the education process. Most important, they will be locked out of the naturalization process.”

“On the positive side, it is clear that the third generation of Latino immigrants is, for the most part, following the pattern of past immigrants when it comes to assimilation,” he added.

Cohn says there is no way to tell the speed in which one generation will learn English but states that locale is a factor. Research on previous generations of immigrants found that living in a non-English speaking enclave delays the learning of English.

The report is available from the Pew Hispanic Center at

–Diverse Online Staff

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