In U.S., Students Struggling with English Outnumber Kids Born Abroad

Mikhail Zinshteyn, EWA, December 22, 2014


This month, the Los Angeles Times wrote about California’s status as the first state in the country to create a program aimed at improving the English fluency skills of long-term English-language learners. What caught my eye was the opening anecdote. “I should be more confident in English because I was born here, but I’m embarrassed that I haven’t improved myself,” said Dasha, a junior at a Los Angeles high school.

Is Dasha a rare native-born American student who struggles with English even as she progresses to the upper grades or is she part of a larger community, a notable subset within the ELL student population?

Definitively, it’s the latter. The overall percentage for 6-to-21-year-olds enrolled in a K-12 program who were born outside of the United States is 4.7 percent, or 2.37 million students, according research the Migration Policy Institute’s Jeanne Batalova calculated for EWA using 2012 U.S. Census data. But the percentage of U.S. students who are deemed English-language learners is nearly double that at 9.1 percent, or 4.4 million students, according to 2013 U.S. Department of Education Data. While the two figures come from different data sources–the latter includes only students in public schools–it’s clear that a large percentage of English-language learners were born in the U.S.


This gulf between the number of students born abroad and those considered English-language learners is particularly wide in several states. California, with roughly 93 percent of its child population considered native-born in 2012, had nearly a quarter of its students enrolled in programs for English language learners that same year.

Eleven percent of Oregon’s students are English-language learners while just 4 percent of children in that state were born abroad.

Texas and Nevada have ELL student populations of 15 and 20 percent, respectively. The non-native child population in each state is around 6 percent.


The observation that ELL students outnumber foreign-born pupils isn’t particularly new, though. In 2007, the Migration Policy Institute estimated that a little more than half of adolescent ELL students were born in the United States. Among those born in the United States, the institute calculated that “up to 27 percent of all [ELL] adolescents are members of the second generation, and 30 percent are third generation, meaning that many students educated exclusively in U.S. schools still cannot speak English well.”

The composition of English-language learners also depends notably on the students’ grade level. Nearly nine in 10 ELL students between kindergarten and grade five were born in the United States. That figure drops to about 60 percent among students grades six to 12 who were enrolled in ELL programming. These figures come from a Migration Policy Institute analysis using 2013 U.S. Census data.


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  • JackKrak

    We used to teach Greek and Latin to kids in high school.

    Now we teach remedial math and English to “college” students.

    • APaige

      Funny, yet painful.

    • Reynardine

      No kidding. I myself had to teach the stinkers remedial math and English while I tutored for extra money in college.

      Such a waste of my time.

    • LeonNJ

      I forget the stats, but the number of college freshman taking remedial (no credit) math and English courses are growing by the year. It makes you wonder what the heck they were doing all day in high school.

    • Magician

      I did read we are dumbing down the materials every year just to appease the black, Hispanic and immigrant students.

  • I wonder if this would be a proper spot to crack a joke about Ebonics.

    • Reynardine

      It always done bees a goo time fo an Ebonics joke.

    • Oil Can Harry

      Did you just mention “Ebonics” and “crack” in the same sentence?

      • Reynardine

        This. This is why I come here.

    • chuck_2012

      yes go ahead with the joke.

  • MekongDelta69

    When Europeans were the majority of immigrants (when America used to be America), the first thing 99% of the families wanted for their kids was that they learn English.

    They didn’t mind if they spoke their native tongue(s) inside the home, but outside – English only.

    • Maximo Partagas

      These Europeans had a unique advantage over the native born negroes at the time. They had the advantage of a more evolved brain. Language is inherent to higher brain function. All the remedial classes in the world will not change a person’s brain nor will the trillion dollars of public assistance.

  • Luca

    Very shortly now, Ebonics and Spanglish will become subjects for blacks and browns so they can excel at something academically.

    • Reynardine

      I think they tried to formalize Ebonics, but blacks kept failing the classes. Blacks can’t even obey their own rules.

    • Albert

      That joke would be funny if it weren’t so close to the truth. I really wouldn’t put it past them to do just that.

    • Alucard_the_last

      In a matter of a generation or so, negroids will be grunting, snorting and pointing instead of speaking. This is already happened in many a ‘black’ community. They are in a state of devolution.

      • chuck_2012

        it really amazes me how they dumb down so quickly on their own. Without the benefit of whites around for them to model their language upon grunting and snorting serve as methods of communication.

  • TomIron361

    In U.S., Students Struggling with English Outnumber Kids Born Abroad
    A couple of things here. One, many children hardly speak at all (generally boys). All they do is mumble mono-syllabic sounds. With girls it comes out as some form of chirping noise that they alone can decipher. Has anyone ever gotten a paid caller who sounds like that? It’s interesting talking to them and asking what that word was they said before such and such a word you might have been able to understand. It seems we’re regressing backward towards some type of middle-English (Beowulf). Very interesting listening to these young people.

    • MrC

      Beowulf was written in Old English (not Middle English), and it is a masterpiece. The Canterbury Tales were written in Middle English, and that work is also a masterpiece. Shakespeare wrote in Early Modern English, and again produced masterpieces. Our language is not simply “regressing” back to some earlier form. Such a change would be preferable to what is actually happening.

      • Reynardine

        Indeed, the complexity and uniqueness of the Anglo-Saxon language is as haunting as it is beautiful. There is a reason why J.R.R. Tolkien became an expert in it.

        Read any of the Anglo-Saxon wisdom poetry, or the Dream of the Rood. It would be ideal to return to such a supreme linguistic heights.

        Instead we got this:
        “I don’t like ’em figgity fat, I like ’em stiggity stacked/You wiggity wiggity wack if you ain’t got biggity back.”

    • saxonsun

      Beowulf was written in Old English about 800-1000 years ago. Chaucer is Middle English.

  • Americaandthewestshouldbewhite

    I have heard that in some schools in the south, which have a lot of black kids, teaching English Grammar is considered racist because English is spoken differently by the blacks and they do not conform to the so called “white” grammar standards.

    • MrC

      In my hometown in the Deep South, when you meet someone for the first time, one of the first questions that is always asked is, “What high school did you go to?” There are very good reasons for this question.

  • Americaandthewestshouldbewhite

    I have a friend who teaches in College and he told me that he was surprised that people young and old, who are born and brought up in the US do not know how to write proper English and write sentences with proper grammar rules. When he corrects them, they always make the excuse that it was taught that way to them in High School.

    • Germanic Depressive

      I’m amazed at how blown away teachers are these days when I turn in a decently written paper. You can tell they basically never see such a thing.

      I’m a transplant from another time and another (far less diverse) part of the country, and they’re getting a little glimpse into what this nation used to be.

      And I’m not even that good. By today’s standards, it’s easy to shine.

      I will forever be grateful for my non-diverse early years. There are still parts of this country which are very much as it used to be, and this was even more so the case as I was growing up.

      I expect to spend the rest of my life in anguish as I watch those places be ruined.

      • chuck_2012

        you would be very surprised at those who cannot write a decent paper. Writing is a learned skill just like riding a bicycle is a learned skill. Getting thoughts onto paper is difficult but with practice many can do it.

      • Americaandthewestshouldbewhite

        Well sadly we all have to watch as these once beautiful clean places are being torn down and made into African outposts.

      • BlueSonicStreak

        I relate very much to this comment.

        A few years ago I took an introductory uni biology course. Never ended up going anywhere with it; but if one thing stood out to me in the course it was this:

        We had to do something called “CPR” which was basically a way for the instructor to avoid having to mark everything. Fifteen percent of our mark or so was from assignments which were handed in and marked online by three other students. We were all given a rubric and a fake assignment to practice marking on. The grades we gave other students were then weighted according to how well our marking matched the instructor’s. Our marking other’s papers also had a catch: if the mark we gave was so low that the other student complained, we could be given that mark ourselves. This was supposed to keep us “honest,” I guess.

        I will never forget how terrible the other student’s work was. I was shocked. My own marks weren’t given as much weighting by the electronic system because the practice session determined that I gave marks 10-15% below the instructor’s. Once I was marking REAL assignments, I could see why the marking in practice was so lenient. Among the real papers I marked, the absolute best one was – in my eyes – a minimal pass. To avoid having my own marks slaughtered, I had to find reasons to give people pity passes. You wrote a sentence I could understand, yay, one mark for you! You formed a new paragraph – another mark! You had a conclusion of some sort (actually unusual, most of the essays simply ended abruptly), you genius, you! This is in university, not kindergarten.

        On top of all of that, my own papers weren’t marked properly. I had marks knocked off for grammatical errors that weren’t errors, for instance. (I don’t pretend to have immaculate grammar, but these were really stupid things. Like having a mark knocked off for a “run-on sentence” which most certainly wasn’t.)

        It was frustrating enough that I drank a bit after having to deal with anything to do with CPR in that course, just to dull the rage. And I never, ever drink.

        If I were a teacher though, I think I would be alcoholic at this point.

        • Germanic Depressive

          Thank you for sharing this story. Very interesting and I appreciate the detail.

          It’s really frightening where our educational system has gotten.

  • JohnEngelman

    “I should be more confident in English because I was born here, but I’m embarrassed that I haven’t improved myself,” said Dasha, a junior at a Los Angeles high school.

    – Mikhail Zinshteyn, EWA, December 22, 2014

    At least Dasha, who is probably black, has the grace to be embarrassed.

    The ability to master literacy, like the ability to master mathematics, is innate. It is not evenly distributed throughout the population.

    • Germanic Depressive

      I have a good friend who is absolutely masterful at mathematics, and is also of pure German bloodline complete with the blonde hair and blue eyes, very tall too.

      Super smart guy, but you could never convince him to feel the slightest amount of pride in his heritage or to acknowledge that his mathematical ability is something inherent in him. He believes anyone, myself included, can do what he does mathematically (and intellectually in general) if they just decide to do so. He hates the idea that anything is innate.

      He utterly rejects all the gifts nature has given him, which is sad I think.

      He’s wrong about me, I’m inherently very bad at math. There are certainly people who are worse, but I am pretty bad. My mind is much more inclined toward linguistics.

    • Reynardine

      Is “the grace to be embarrassed” actin’ White?

  • Yves Vannes

    Funny how the ELL students from Chinatown don`t seem to have the same problem as the ELL learners from the Mission (spanish). I don`t recall the German, French, Dutch, Japanese, Korean, Italian, Polish, Cambodian, Lebanese, etc ELL learners getting all bogged down. Must be something in the water…

    • Maximo Partagas

      More likely something in the gene pool. The ability to learn and assimilate language and accent is a function which less developed brains are not capable of. My wife moved to The US from Argentina (she is of Nordic descent) at 13 y/o never speaking English. By the time she was 16 y/o (when I met her) she spoke English with no accent at all. She speaks fluent Spanish and English easily adapting the appropriate accent and dialect when needed. This is a function of a developed brain and can be linked back to genetic traits. Negroes and Mestizos in general don’t have this higher brain function.

  • John Smith

    A trip to a local BBQ joint or a fast food dive in the South or inner city will confirm this – I can understand the illegal Mexicans better than most blacks.

  • Maximo Partagas

    Anyone who ever read the essay “What is it Like to Teach Black Students?” by Christopher Jackson is aware of this trend among American born negroes. To quote Mr. Jackson’s essay: [“At home they have learned a dialect that is almost a different language. Blacks not only mispronounce words; their grammar is often wrong. When a black wants to ask, “Where is the bathroom?” he may actually say “Whar da badroom be?”]

    As far as I am concerned, I believe this will only improve the standings of Whites in the US, as time goes on, people will realize how inherently inferior negroes are as a race and a natural segregation will continue until we reach total separation which in the long term will ensure the survival of The White Race. Racial realists must embrace the idea of total segregation if we are to survive.

  • Alucard_the_last

    Once gutter English became the norm, the outcome was going to be lack of true English skills. Nothing gets me sicker than a white who listens to cRap and then talks like a uncivilized negro. Just the other day I watch COPS and this white guy was crying like a baby because his girlfriend dumped him and he went into this ebonics crap with the finger jesters. I wish I was there because I would have given him something to cry about.

  • superlloyd

    Blacks have never even mastered basic English despite being here for 400 years. Have more hope for the Hispanics but the appropiation of ebonics by young whites is a sign of a dominant culture full of self doubt.

  • Elba

    I did as an elementary age child- from books my mother and father had in our study. It’s called “intelligence”. Maybe there is something in the water that’s creating a nation of stupid children..? Who knows.

  • MexAm201

    This article is no surprise to me. At the high school where I teach we have students that have been in the English as a Second Language program since elementary school. To take away the “stigma” of being in the program the organizers have come up with several euphemisms. These students are now called Limited English Proficient and English Language Learners. The goal these days is for them to learn academic English. That’s why they have to stay in these programs. What used to be called Bilingual Education programs are now called Dual-Language Programs. But the intent is the same: keep them out of immersion in English so that they don’t forget Spanish. Eventually the student comes out of the program with a poor command of both English and Spanish.

    I know some relatives whose child is already on this path to poor English dominance. The child was born in the US, but his parents only speak to him in Spanish and he only watches TV in Spanish and only listens to Spanish-language radio. He is now four years old. When he goes to school next year he will be placed in the “Dual Language Program” where he will continue to not learn English. And what will his future prospects be? Well, they will be limited just like his English because he won’t know much English so that he can ahead. I’ve tried telling the parents that they need to encourage him to listen to English so he’ll learn it, but they ignored me. I tried buying him books. He throws them against the wall. When I look at him, I see in him the many students I’ve known who couldn’t speak English well, who couldn’t reason well, in short who were lousy students because their parents couldn’t be bothered with teaching their child the importance of an education and proficiency in English. Personally I’ve gotten fed up seeing it every day. Most of these people are lost causes. I’ve stopped expecting much out of them.

    Last week I visited them for Christmas. One of the big jokes of the evening was how cute it was that their son had still not learned English. I tried to not show too much disgust.

  • BlueSonicStreak

    My school had optional Latin classes as well.

    Problem is, they were not recognized as an accepted language course by any local university. And they were OPTIONAL, despite their obvious value.

    The small amount of Latin and Greek I know is from studying the roots of medical terms; I’ve found even that small amount to be very useful. We should still be teaching this stuff, but we’re not.

  • BlueSonicStreak

    Uh, then I guess mine wasn’t worth its salt? There was only two Latin classes added when I was in eleventh grade. They hadn’t put together enough of a curriculum for a third course. God knows there was no such thing as “AP” Latin.