US Hispanics’ English Fluency a Matter of Education, Generation, Exposure

December 7, 2007

This article is included in these additional categories:

Global & Regional | Hispanic

US-born Hispanic adults whose parents are immigrants tend to be fluent in English (88% fluent), but their foreign-born parents tend not to be (23% fluent), according to a new analysis of six Pew Hispanic Center surveys of more than 14,000 Latino adults.

Later generations of Hispanic adults are fluent in greater proportions – up to 94% – with ability to read English showing a similar pattern.

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Ability to speak and frequent usage of English are more likely if the speaker is highly educated, arrived in the US as a child or has spent many years in the US.

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Just 7% of immigrant Hispanics speak mainly or only English at home – but nearly half of their adult children do. However, 29% of foreign-born Latinos speak mainly or only English at work.

In citing potential causes of anti-Hispanic discrimination, English-language skill deficiency was selected more often than other options during surveys taken in 2007, 2006 and 2002.

Among other findings regarding Latinos in the US:

  • Most foreign-born Hispanics (52%) say they speak only Spanish at home; just 11% of their adult children say so; and 6% of the children of US-born Hispanics say so.
  • Half of the adult children of Latino immigrants speak some Spanish at home; among third and higher generations, one-in-four do.
  • 71% of Mexican immigrants say they speak English just a little or not at all, whereas those born in South America or Puerto Rico are the least likely to say so: 44% and 35%, respectively.
  • Among immigrants with college degrees, 62% say they speak English very well, whereas 34% say so among those with high school diplomas and 11% among those who have not completed high school.
  • Most naturalized citizens (52%) speak English very well or pretty well; most non-citizens (74%) say they speak just a little English or none at all.
  • Some 44% of all Latino adults are bilingual – particularly adult children of immigrants, 68% of whom say they can carry on a conversation in English or Spanish pretty well or very well.

About the data: The main data sources for the Pew report (pdf) are six surveys conducted for the Pew Hispanic Center from April 2002 to October 2006. They included interviews with more than 14,000 native-born and foreign-born Latino adults, ages 18 and older. Latinos born in Puerto Rico are considered foreign-born.

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