Immigrants And English Acquisition

Wonks are usually more comfortable talking about economics than culture, but in my experience, an awful lot of grassroots concern about immigration focuses more on the soft cultural factors. In particular, a lot of people express anxiety about the fact that many immigrants don’t speak English and they’re concerned that ethnic media and ethnic enclaves mean they and their descendants won’t learn English. If you’re familiar with the extensive effort that foreigners who haven’t moved to the United States are putting into learning English, this can seem a bit funny. But it’s worth emphasizing, as Dowell Myers and John Pitkin do in a new report, that immigrants to the United States are indeed interested in learning the language of global commerce:

People’s sense that many immigrants speak English poorly is absolutely correct. Learning a foreign language is difficult, especially for adults, and most immigrants don’t manage to really pull it off all that well. But people’s fear about the trends are mistaken. People do try, and they do improve over time. The authors can use this data on historical trends to project into future. They find, for example, that by 2030 “the percentage speaking English well—or very well, or only English—advances to 70.3 percent, and among Hispanic immigrants this reaches 57.1 percent, a majority.”