Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/1009language09.html

20% don't speak English at home, census shows
Associated Press
Oct. 9, 2003
Genaro C. Armas


WASHINGTON - Nearly one in five Americans speaks a language other than English at home, the Census Bureau says, after a surge of nearly 50 percent during the past decade. Most speak Spanish, followed by Chinese, with Russian rising fast.

About 47 million Americans age 5 and older used a language other than English in 2000, the bureau said. That translates into the nearly one in five, compared with roughly one in seven 10 years earlier.

In Arizona, nearly 26 percent of those age 5 and older, or 1.2 million people, speak a foreign language at home, the sixth-highest proportion among all states.

About 540,000 of those people, or 11.4 percent, say they speak English less than "very well." That also ranks the state sixth in the nation, behind California, Texas, New York, Hawaii and New Mexico.

Arizona has the fourth-highest proportion of Spanish speakers, at 20 percent, or 927,000 people. Of those, 435,000 report they don't speak English very well.

The proportion of Arizona foreign-language speakers at home rose 76 percent from 1990 to 2000, representing about 530,000 people.

Nationally, there also were more people considered "linguistically isolated" because of limited English, a situation that some analysts say can prevent people from assimilating fully into American society and hinder activities like grocery shopping or communicating with police or fire officials.

The Spanish-speaking population rose by 62 percent over the period to 28.1 million; slightly more than half also reported speaking English "very well."

The numbers are a further reflection of the surge in immigration since 1990. The influx helped make Hispanics the largest minority group, surpassing Blacks.

Data in the census report come from responses to the 2000 census long-form survey distributed to about one in six households. The question asked if a person spoke a language other than English at home, and, if so, it then asked to gauge how well they spoke English.

The proportion of the population age 5 and older in 2000 who spoke English less than "very well" was 8 percent, up from 6 percent in 1990 and 5 percent in 1980.

The bureau found about 11.9 million people lived in linguistically isolated homes, meaning nobody in the home 14 or older knew English "very well." That was up 54 percent from 1990.

The category is used, in part, to gauge how well people who speak another language can communicate in English in common activities like speaking with police or doctors or at the bank or grocery store.

In particular, Hispanics often live in neighborhoods where most people tend to speak a language other than English, said John Logan, a sociologist at the State University of New York at Albany. He said that level of isolation can lead to a continued reliance on Spanish, even among those born in the United States.