Span­ish speak­ers more pro­fi­cient in English than Asians

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

Those who speak Chi­nese, Korean and Viet­namese at home are less pro­fi­cient in English than Span­ish speak­ers, ac­cord­ing to strik­ing find­ings the Cen­sus Bureau re­leased Tues­day that sug­gest some Asians may have a tougher time mas­ter­ing English than His­pan­ics.

Over­all, Amer­i­cans speak more than 350 dif­fer­ent tongues at home, in­clud­ing some 150 Amer­i­can In­dian lan­guages, some of which have so few speak­ers that the bureau de­clined to re­lease the to­tals for fear that it would iden­tify in­di­vid­u­als.

In the coun­try’s largest ci­ties, English is a mi­nor­ity lan­guage: A stag­ger­ing 54 per­cent of res­i­dents in the Los An­ge­les metropoli­tan re­gion speak a lan­guage other than English at home, as do 51 per­cent of Mi­ami-area res­i­dents, 40 per­cent of San Fran­cisco, 38 per­cent of New York, 37 per­cent of Hous­ton and 36 per­cent of the Wash­ing­ton re­gion.

The data, gleaned from cen­sus in­for­ma­tion from 2009 to 2013, found 60.3 mil­lion res­i­dents, or more than one in five peo­ple older than 5, speaks a lan­guage other than English at home. Span­ish is the top al­ter­na­tive, with 37.5 mil­lion home speak­ers, fol­lowed by Chi­nese with 2.9 mil­lion home speak­ers.

Other top lan­guages with more than 1 mil­lion home-speak­ers were French, Ger­man, Korean, Viet­namese and Ta­ga­log. Ara­bic, mean­while, was near­ing the 1 mil­lion mark.

But the breadth of lan­guages was also ap­par­ent, with about 25,000 speak­ing Fin­nish at home, about 212,000 speak­ing He­brew, ap­prox­i­mately 166,000 speak­ing Navajo and 237,000 or so speak­ing Ar­me­nian.

“While most of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion speaks only English at home or a hand­ful of other lan­guages like Span­ish or Viet­namese, the Amer­i­can Com­mu­nity Sur­vey re­veals the wide-rang­ing lan­guage di­ver­sity of the United States,” said Erik Vick­strom, a Cen­sus Bureau statis­ti­cian. “For ex­am­ple, in the New York metro area alone, more than a third of the pop­u­la­tion speaks a lan­guage other than English at home, and close to 200 dif­fer­ent lan­guages are spo­ken. Know­ing the num­ber of lan­guages and how many speak th­ese lan­guages in a par­tic­u­lar area pro­vides valu­able in­for­ma­tion to pol­i­cy­mak­ers, plan­ners and re­searchers.”

Lan­guages spo­ken at home are only part of the story for those pol­i­cy­mak­ers. The big­ger is­sue is how many of them are not pro­fi­cient in English, mean­ing gov­ern­ments and busi­nesses need to try to reach them in their own lan­guages.

Those num­bers were sur­pris­ing: More than 56 per­cent of those who speak Span­ish at home said they also speak English “very well.”

Asian lan­guage speak­ers, by con­trast, do not fare as well. The cen­sus said just 40 per­cent of the 1.4 mil­lion res­i­dents who speak Viet­namese in their homes also speak English “very well,” and only about 45 per­cent of those who speak Chi­nese or Korean at home are also pro­fi­cient in English.

Steven A. Ca­marota, a de­mog­ra­pher at the Cen­ter for Im­mi­gra­tion Stud­ies, said the find­ings were eye-catch­ing be­cause lan­guage skills usu­ally in­crease the longer im­mi­grants have been in the coun­try and the higher their ed­u­ca­tional at­tain­ment. Viet­namese im­mi­grants gen­er­ally have been in the U.S. for some time, while Chi­nese im­mi­grants have high ed­u­ca­tion lev­els.

Mr. Ca­marota also cau­tioned about the data, say­ing the cen­sus asks res­i­dents to grade them­selves on their English skills.

“It’s based on self-eval­u­a­tion. It doesn’t mean that it’s mean­ing­less, it just means that Asians might judge them­selves much harsher,” he said.

The num­bers also fo­cus on those who speak a lan­guage other than English at home, so it’s pos­si­ble that Asians who learn English adopt it for use in their homes at a higher rate than Span­ish speak­ers, which would skew the num­bers.

The rate of English pro­fi­ciency var­ied widely. For ex­am­ple, 80 per­cent of those who speak Hindi at home told the cen­sus they also speak English “very well.” So did 84 per­cent of Ger­man speak­ers, 76 per­cent of Greek speak­ers and 73 per­cent of those who spoke Ital­ian at home. But some 40 per­cent of Pol­ish home speak­ers strug­gled with English pro­fi­ciency, as did 47 per­cent of Rus­sian speak­ers.

Schools in par­tic­u­lar grap­ple with how to reach stu­dents who strug­gle with English.

The fed­eral Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion said 4.4 mil­lion stu­dents, or about 9.2 per­cent of the to­tal, were deemed English lan­guage learn­ers in the 2012-13 school year. Lo­cal school dis­tricts say the ex­tra costs for ed­u­cat­ing those stu­dents run thou­sands of dol­lars more than the av­er­age stu­dent who speaks English pro­fi­ciently.

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