English Usage Among Hispanics in the United States

  • November 29, 2007
  • By Shirin Hakimzadeh and D'Vera Cohn

Nearly all Hispanic adults born in the United States of immigrant parents report they are fluent in English. By contrast, only a small minority of their parents describe themselves as skilled English speakers. This finding of a dramatic increase in English-language ability from one generation of Hispanics to the next emerges from a new analysis of six Pew Hispanic Center surveys conducted this decade among a total of more than 14,000 Latino adults. The surveys show that fewer than one-in-four (23%) Latino immigrants reports being able to speak English very well. However, fully 88% of their U.S.-born adult children report that they speak English very well. Among later generations of Hispanic adults, the figure rises to 94%. Reading ability in English shows a similar trend.

As fluency in English increases across generations, so, too, does the regular use of English by Hispanics, both at home and at work. For most immigrants, English is not the primary language they use in either setting. But for their grown children, it is.

The surveys also find that Latino immigrants are more likely to speak English very well, and to use it often, if they are highly educated, arrived in the United States as children or have spent many years here. College education, in particular, plays an important role in the ability to speak and read English. Among the major Hispanic origin groups, Puerto Ricans and South Americans are the most likely to say they are proficient in English; Mexicans are the least likely to say so.

Read full report English Usage Among Hispanics in the United States on Pew Hispanic Center Web site.