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Non-English preference speakers in the U.S doubled since 1980


The number of United States residents who speak a language other than English at home has more than doubled since 1980. Based on results from analysis of the 2007 American Community Survey, the Census Bureau report finds that a large majority of the population aged 5 and older in the United States (80 percent) speaks only English at home. However, the number of individuals who speak a language other than English at home more than doubled between 1980 and 2007. The magnitude of this growth is four times greater than the nation’s population growth.

The number of individuals who spoke a language other than English at home increased 140 percent from approximately 23.1 million in 1980 to 55.4 million in 2007. By contrast, the overall U.S. population grew 34 percent during this period. The findings also suggest that the prevalence of foreign-language speakers is highest among the younger ages. As shown in Figure 2, 21 percent of children aged 5 to 17 and 24 percent of adults aged 18 to 40 spoke a language other than English at home, compared to 17 percent of adults aged 41 to 64 and 14 percent of adults aged 65 and older.

Spanish speakers account for the largest share of the population who spoke a language other than English at home in 2007 (62 percent). Further, while there were eight languages spoken at home that more than doubled between 1980 and 2007, the largest numerical increase of foreign-language speakers was among those who spoke Spanish. By 2007 the number of Spanish speakers had grown by more than 23.4 million.

The number of residents with low English proficiency is also increasing.

The Census Bureau classifies five percent of US households as linguistically-isolated.5 A linguistically-isolated household is one where no one in the home above the age of 14 speaks English only or speaks a second language and speaks English well. In 2007, 24.5 million individuals reported that they spoke English less than “very well.” The proportion of individuals who are less than proficient in English is especially high for those who speak Spanish at home – at 47 percent – and those who speak Asian and Pacific Island languages, at 49 percent.

The number of individuals with inadequate English-language skills is rapidly increasing, according to a second report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that analyzes trends not tracked in the Census report. The GAO study finds that adults who speak English less than “very well” rose 21.8 percent between 2000 and 2007, to about 22 million. The study also reports that the largest numbers of adult residents with limited English-language proficiency in 2007 lived in six large immigrant “gateway” states: California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Texas. A second group of states, however – Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Nevada and Tennessee – posted the highest growth rates in this population during the 2000 to 2007 period. These 12 states account for 75 percent of the national adult population with limited English-language proficiency.

Source: Curtis Skinner, Vanessa R. Wight, Yumiko Aratani, Janice L. Cooper, and Kalyani Thampi. English Language Proficiency, Family Economic Security, and Child Development. Publication Date: June 2010
http://www.nccp.org/publications/pub_948.html

Other sources:

Government Accountability Office. 2009. English Language Learning: Diverse Federal State Efforts to Support Adult English Language Learning Could Benefit from More Coordination. Report to the Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Children and Families, Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, U.S. Senate. Accessed May 19, 2010 from http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09575.pdf

Shin, Hyon B.; Kominski, Robert A. 2010. Language Use in the United States: 2007. American Community Survey Reports, ACS-12. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau. Accessed May 19, 2010 from http://www.census.gove/prod/2010pubs/acs-12.pdf.

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