Learning English: An American Tradition


By Delia Pompa, Senior Vice President, Programs, NCLR

There is quite a bit of misinformation being pushed out about whether immigrants want to learn English. But, according to a new study, Latino immigrants are actually learning English faster than their late 19th century European immigrant counterparts.

The study, conducted by the Journal of Transnational American Studies, looks at the German population of late 19th and early 20th century Wisconsin.  It found that, as late as the 1930s, 13 percent of people of German descent in Wisconsin spoke German exclusively. And those who did speak English, did so only out of necessity.There is quite a bit of misinformation being pushed out about whether immigrants want to learn English. But, according to a new study, Latino immigrants are actually learning English faster than their late 19th century European immigrant counterparts.

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In comparison, 92 percent of today’s second-generation Latinos and almost the entire third generation speak English very well.

So, what does that say about our current Latino immigrant community? Their high levels of English proficiency show that they are integrating into American culture at a very fast rate. They are not marginalizing themselves by refusing to learn to speak English. If anything, they are actually integrating so fully into American culture that they are no longer learning Spanish; less than half of third generation Latinos speak Spanish.

Latinos want to become part of mainstream America, and they understand that learning English is an important aspect of integrating into American society. In fact, over 87% of undocumented immigrants actually support requiring English classes as part of the legalization process.

As we continue to debate comprehensive immigration with a pathway to citizenship for millions of Latinos, it’s important that we support policies that will help more Latinos fully integrate by providing them with the opportunity to learn English. A common language is one of the most important cultural aspects that bind a society together.  Let’s not miss out on any opportunity to teach this very eager community the language that we share.

 

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