Emily Alpert, Los Angeles Times, August 6, 2013
In California and across the country, more people are speaking Spanish, Korean or a slew of other languages besides English at home — a phenomenon that has historically set off heated debate about how immigrants will assimilate into American life.
Yet in recent years, as other tongues became more common in American homes, people nationwide were no less likely to speak English with ease, a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau shows. Scholars say slowing immigration has given rise to a more settled population of people born abroad.
The numbers reveal that in recent years, the continued rise in other languages has not come at the expense of English proficiency. Between 2007 and 2011, the percentage of U.S. residents who spoke another language at home rose slightly from 19.7% to 20.8%. During those same years, the share of people who spoke another language and did not speak English “very well” stayed flat at 8.7%, the report found.
Spanish speakers, in particular, became a bigger chunk of the population, yet the share of people nationwide who speak Spanish at home and struggle with English actually shrank very slightly, the report found. The reason: Spanish speakers became more likely to speak English smoothly.
That pattern was echoed in California, where nearly 44% of people speak something other than English at home. More Californians now speak Spanish at home — and increasing numbers of them also speak English very well, a Los Angeles Times analysis of Census Bureau estimates showed.
The Census Bureau report also revealed surging numbers of people speaking Chinese, Vietnamese and African languages, while speakers of Italian and German have dwindled nationwide. Though English proficiency nationwide held steady from 2007 to 2011, it remained lower than in 2000.