Language Trends
Education Week

January 8, 2003

 Spanish is the dominant language among Hispanic adults in the United States, but their children use mainly English or are bilingual, a recent survey shows.

"2002 National Survey of Latinos," from the The Pew Hispanic Center and Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. (Sections of the report require Adobe's Acrobat Reader.)

Forty percent of adults living in the United States who identify themselves as of Hispanic or Latin origin or descent haven't learned English, according to the survey, conducted from April to June of last year by the Washington-based Pew Hispanic Center and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

The survey authors determined whether Hispanics were dominant in Spanish or English by how they answered four questions about their language skills, including, "Would you say you can read a newspaper or book in Spanish/English very well, pretty well, just a little, or not at all?"

They interviewed 2,929 Hispanics, including people who were born in the United States and in other countries, plus 1,008 non-Hispanic whites and 171 non-Hispanic African- Americans.

The survey results showed that a large share of children whose parents were born in Spanish-speaking countries prefer to use English in their own social settings in the United States.

Forty-five percent of foreign-born Hispanics surveyed said their children communicate with their friends mostly in English, and an additional 32 percent said their children use Spanish and English equally.

Only 18 percent of foreign-born Latinos said their children communicate only in Spanish with their friends; an additional 5 percent said their children speak more Spanish than English.

Almost all second-generation Hispanics are comfortable with English and are either English-dominant or bilingual, the survey authors say. Only 7 percent of second-generation Hispanic immigrants said they were Spanish-dominant.

The survey results illustrate the difference between the opportunities that Hispanic adults have to learn English in this country compared with those of their children, said Michael Fix, the director of the immigration-studies program at the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank.

"At least the teaching of English is professionalized within elementary and secondary schools," he said. "For adults, it's very fragmented."

-Mary Ann Zehr