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The Five Most Common Native Languages of English-Learners

05-Dual-Language-Haitian-Creole-Dance-article.jpg

Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Haitian Creole are the top five home languages for English-language learners in the nation's K-12 public schools, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Education.

"The Biennial Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Title III State Formula Grant Program" offers an in-depth look at the prevalence of the languages among the nation's K-12 English-learner population.

Altogether, more than 80 percent of the nation's English-learners are native speakers of one of those languages, but there is lots of linguistic diversity among the nation's English-learners: 44 languages were represented among the individual states' top five most commonly spoken languages during the 2013-14 school year, the report found.

 Capture Most Common Languages.PNG

The study, delivered to Congress at the end of September, uses data from the 2012-13 and 2013-14 academic years to examine the state of English-learner education in the United States.

Here's an overview of the data on the most common native languages of English-learners:

1.       Spanish

In the 2013-14 school year, 10 states reported that at least 80 percent of the English-learners enrolled in public K-12 schools were native Spanish speakers. Here's a look:

 Capture Spanish Speaking.PNG

All but five states reported Spanish as the most common language for English-learners. Those five states, along with the most common languages in each, are: Alaska (Yup'ik languages); Hawaii (Iloko); Maine (Somali); Montana (German); and Vermont (Nepali).

 2.       Arabic

The number of English-learners reported as speaking Arabic increased by 157 percent between the 2006-07 and 2013-14 school years. The 2006-07 school year marked the first time the biennial report listed the number of Arabic-speaking English-learners. Even with the growth, Arabic speakers represent just about 2.5 percent of all English-learners.

Overall, Arabic is among the top five native languages for English-learners in 36 states and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. Here's a look:

Capture Arabic Speaking.PNG

3.       Chinese

The number of English-learners reported as speaking Chinese increased by 195 percent between the 2006-07 and 2013-14 school years. The 2006-07 school year marked the first time the biennial report listed the number of English-learners with Asian or Pacific Islander languages. Here's a look:

Capture Asian Pacific Islander Languages.PNGOverall, native Chinese-speaking students represent about 2.4 percent of all English-learners. The report does not distinguish between Cantonese and Mandarin speakers.

4.       Vietnamese

The percentage of English-learners whose native language is Vietnamese is 1.9 percent, the same percentage as it was in the 2006-07 school year. However, the overall number of Vietnamese-speaking English-learners has declined over that period, dropping from nearly 86,000 to about 80,000—a more than 5 percent decline.

The decline of English-speakers of Hmong, another Asian-Pacific Islander language, took an even more dramatic drop, falling by 57 percent. (See the chart above for more detail)

 5.       Haitian Creole

Haitian Creole replaced Hmong in the category of five most common languages spoken by English-learners nationwide in the 2012-13 school year. The Haitian Creole-speaking English-learners are largely concentrated in four states, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. Here's a look:

Capture Haitian Creole Speakers.PNG

Haitian Creole remained among the top five languages during the 2013-14 school year, despite a 4 percent decline from the previous year that brought the population down to roughly 35,500.

What About American Indian and Alaska Native languages?

A declining number of states identify an American Indian or Alaska Native language among the five most common native languages of English-learners, dropping from 10 in 2012-13 to seven in 2013-14.

The seven states where an American Indian or Alaska Native language were among the most common languages are: Alaska, Arizona, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah. The states that dropped from the list are: Idaho, North Dakota, and Wyoming.

The biennial report captures data on eight American Indian and Alaska native languages or language groups.

Here's a copy of the full report:

Biennial Report to Congress... by on Scribd

Related Stories

Schools Are Ill-Prepared to Educate 'Superdiverse' English-Learners

English-Learners Are a Diverse Group. How Can Schools Meet Their Needs?

Few Aspiring Teachers Aim to Work With English-Learners, Report Finds

Most States Failing to Meet English-Learner Academic Targets

Images: U.S. Department of Education, office of English-language acquisition

Photo Credit: Kindergartner Ava Josephine Mikel and teacher Priscilla Joseph dance to Haitian music during a game of "freeze dance" at Toussaint L'Ouverture Academy, a Haitian Creole dual-language program at Mattahunt Elementary School in Boston. More dual-language programs are cropping up in districts around the country.

--Gretchen Ertol for Education Week
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