Latinos Learn English Faster Than Previous Immigrants, Study Finds

Credit: Madison Public Library

A new study demonstrates that Latinos are learning English faster than past immigrants in a country without an official language.

The study, conducted by Joseph Salmons of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Miranda E. Wilkerson of Columbia College, looked at German immigrants to the U.S. from the 19th century and their rate of English use.

The researchers found that high numbers of second- and third-generation German immigrants spoke only German. These areas with German-rich populations had limited interactions in English; in schools and churches, German was the preferred language.

According to a 2012 Pew study, 92 percent of second-generation Latino immigrants speak English “very well” with 82 percent being bilingual. By the third-generation, 96 percent of Latino immigrants are speaking English. In contrast, 35 percent of second-generation German-Americans spoke only German in some of the counties studied.

As one researcher said to ABC News, when Latinos immigrate and settle in the U.S., they, along with their children, are assimilating into the country by learning English at a more rapid pace than some of the founding immigrants. “I challenge anybody to show me a third generation person in this country who speaks Spanish and no English, whereas we can find in the Census records, we can find those people in German speaking communities,” said Joseph Salmons, who studies language acquisition in immigrant communities.

This disproves a conservative argument that immigrants are slow to assimilate, and that there should be more requirements for English proficiency. As the study shows, the current education system has proved itself as effective in providing English education, making English-only requirements — like that proposed as an amendment to the Senate’s immigration bill by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) — unnecessary.

Kirsten Gibson is an intern for ThinkProgress.