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New Report Highlights Factors in English Proficiency, Assimilation Among Hispanics

Fluency for Hispanic immigrants increases across generations, according to a new report released by the Pew Hispanic Center, a research organization based in Washington, D.C.

A survey of 14,000 Hispanic adults revealed that only 23 percent of Hispanic immigrants reported being able to speak English very well. However, 88 percent of their U.S.-born adult children reported that they speak English very well, and the figure was 94 percent among later generations of Hispanic adults.

“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.

The report begins by analyzing differences in English ability and use among several generations of Hispanics.

Just 7 percent of foreign-born Hispanics speak “mainly” or “only” English at home, still about half of their children do. In contrast, four times as many foreign-born Hispanics speak “mainly” or “only” English at work. Fewer than 43 percent of foreign-born Hispanics speak mainly or only Spanish on the job, versus the three-quarters who do so at home.

The report indicates that Hispanic immigrants are more likely to speak English very well and use it often if they are highly educated, arrived in the United States as children or have been in the country for a long time.

College education is closely tied to the ability to speak and read English. Among Hispanic immigrants with college degrees, 62 percent report that they speak English very well. That share drops to 34 percent among those with high school diplomas and 11 percent among those who did not complete high school.

“Language is the vehicle of assimilation,” says Cohn. “Immigrants recognize that their ability to speak English will assist in integrating into the wider society, and play a factor in applying for jobs and negotiating salaries.”

Cohn also notes that English proficiency is vital in attaining U.S. citizenship and debunking stereotypes.

Hispanics cite language skills more frequently than immigration status, income, education or skin color as an explanation for discrimination against them. In 2007, 46 percent said it was the biggest cause of discrimination against Hispanics.

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.

–Michelle J. Nealy

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