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Are Latinos Learning English Quickly?


Whether Latinos in the United States are learning English quickly or not seems to be somewhat in the eye of the beholder.

The Pew Hispanic Center reported last week that 88 percent of second-generation Latinos surveyed report they speak English very well. In their executive summary of the report, "English Usage Among Hispanics in the United States," the authors translated the 88 percent statistic into the following statement: "Nearly all Hispanic adults born in the United States of immigrant parents report they are fluent in English."

But Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, which aims to reduce immigration, didn't have a "nearly all" angle to his remarks about the finding when he was quoted in a Nov. 30 article in the Washington Post.

"The fact that 88 percent of American-born children speak English very well is not something to brag about," Mr. Krikorian said. "What that really means," he continues in the article, "is that 1 out of 8 American-born children of Hispanic immigrants does not speak English very well."

The report also stated that a "small minority" of first-generation immigrants who are Latinos describe themselves as skilled English speakers. One in four Latino immigrants says he or she is able to speak English very well.

I think educators agree that something is really wrong if the child of an immigrant, who is U.S.- born and attends U.S. schools his or her whole life, isn't fluent in English upon graduation from high school. But they differ in their thinking about what is a reasonable amount of time for it to take for a child to learn English.

Educators often say, too, that how fast someone learns English varies greatly from person to person. The Pew study notes that research shows that the age of arrival and education level of immigrants are some of the predictors of how quickly they acquire good English skills.

For other articles about this study, click here and here.


Mary Ann, thank you for your articles here. IMHO, far too many debates about Spanish-language teaching and bilingual education in California and Arizona are framed the wrong way. Too often, it's all about the burden that Latinos have learning English and the presumption that English is the only "common" language in California when this is not true-- throughout this region, Spanish actually has precedence over English and, following the bitterness of the Mexican-American War, Spanish and English were given equal rights for general use.

I am not Latino myself though my husband is, and I learned to my surprise that Spanish and Latino culture have pervaded this state from the very start, much more than we often appreciate. After the Mexican War, as a way to keep peace between the embittered Latinos who were now being ruled by a different people, and the new Anglo settlers, the laws, treaties and courts in the state put Spanish and English on an equal footing. Both languages were used in court and government documents, in ballots, in offices, hospitals, libraries, museums and of course, in schools.

IMHO, in California and similar SW states such as Arizona, as well as in Florida, we can avoid so much of this rancor if we just think about the state's history dating to the Mexican War and realize that the Latinos were the founders here before Anglo settlement began. This is why our cities are called "Los Angeles" and "San Diego" and the state is called "California," for goodness' sakes!

IOW, the "default culture" for California and the Southwest, and in Florida, is bilingual from the start, and when we speak of "assimilation" here, the model should be assimilating to our bilingual core.

Which also means that the issue of the medium of instruction and schools testing in California should be a no-brainer-- offer it in Spanish alongside English, and give Spanish the proper recognition it deserves, as a truly *American* language especially in SW states and in Florida. Spanish is not a foreign language here.

Y deberiamos disfrutar hablarlo!

With Spanish and the Latino people and culture given equality here, we'll be one step closer to creating a harmonious society in California, Arizona, Florida and other states still riven by historical bitterness and debate among different peoples.

I find these kind of statistics useless without a comparison, or are they assuming that 100% of children of non-Latino US-born parents speak English very well? I wouldn't be surprised if one in 1 in 8 or 1 in 16 of those children do not "speak English very well".

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