Study English use grows with each migrant generation
McClatchy Newspapers
Nov. 30, 2007


Frank Greve, McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON - Just like previous immigrant groups, Hispanic immigrants in the United States speak little English in the first generation, but English dominates in the lives of the second generation and Spanish fades in the third, according to a study released Thursday.

The classic pattern, reported by the Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington-based non-profit research group, partially counters concerns raised in immigration debates that Hispanics in the United States will cluster in Spanish-speaking enclaves rather than assimilate and learn English, as previous immigrant groups have done.

The study found, however, that Hispanics of Mexican origin - who predominate in the largest U.S. immigrant influx in a century - are the slowest to adopt English in succeeding generations.

According to Pew senior writer D'Vera Cohn, a co-author of the analysis, picking up English is key to assimilation "because it's how people get a better job, talk to their neighbors, talk to their child's teacher and fit in generally."

According to Cohn, it's impossible to know how quickly German, Eastern European, Asian and other immigrant groups took up English in the 19th and 20th centuries because no one kept the figures.

For that matter, Pew's findings measure only English fluency and literacy in succeeding generations, not how long it took for individuals to adopt English.

The findings are based on 14,000 interviews of legal and illegal adult Hispanic immigrants nationwide, conducted from 2002 to 2006.

The interviews were for six separate Pew studies, each of which included very similar questions about fluency and literacy. Their margins of error varied from plus or minus 2.41 percentage points to plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.