Trends in the Well-Being of America's Children and Youth, 2000. EA 3.4 Difficulty Speaking English

01/01/2000

Difficulty speaking English may limit children’s educational progress and their future employment prospects. Children may also need special instruction in school to improve their English. Difficulty speaking English is most common among immigrant children and U.S.-born children of immigrants. In the past three decades, the great majority of immigrants to the United States have come from Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

In 1995, of the 6.7 million children ages 5 through 17 in the United States who spoke a language other than English at home, 2.4 million (36.5 percent) had difficulty speaking English. This represents a 3.8 percentage point increase from the proportion of similar children who had difficulty speaking English in 1979 (see Table EA 3.4). While the proportion of all children experiencing difficulty speaking English nearly doubled between 1979 and 1995, this group constituted only 5.1 percent of the total population of children ages 5 through 17 in 1995 (see Table EA 3.4).

Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin. Children of Hispanic or “other” ethnic origin are more likely than black or white children to have difficulty speaking English. For example, in 1995, 31.0 percent of all Hispanic children and 14.1 percent of children of “other” races (including Asians) had difficulty speaking English, compared with about 1 percent each of black and white children. These differences are due in part to the fact that Hispanic and Asian children are more likely than whites or blacks to speak another language in the home (see Table EA 3.4). Nearly one-third (31.8 percent) of non-Hispanic black children from homes where a language other than English was spoken had difficulty speaking English in 1995 (see Figure EA 3.4), an increase from 25.6 percent in 1979. Among Hispanic children from such homes, 41.9 percent had difficulty speaking English. Nineteen percent of non-Hispanic white children from homes where a language other than English was spoken had difficulty speaking English in 1995. The proportion was similarly low in 1979, 1989, and 1992 for these children.

Differences by Region. The percentage of children who speak another language at home varies substantially by geographic region, ranging from 5.9 percent in the Midwest to 26.4 percent in the West in 1995. Further, in the West more than 1 in 10 children have difficulty speaking English, compared to 2.3 percent in the Midwest.

 

Table EA 3.4 Difficulty speaking English: children ages 5 to 17 who speak a language other than English at home and who are reported to have difficulty speaking English,a by race and Hispanic origin and by region: Selected years, 1979-1995

  1979 1989 1992 1995b
Children who speak another language at home
Number (in thousands) 3,825 5,293 6,375 6,656
Percentage of children ages 5-17 8.5 12.6 14.2 14.1
Race and Hispanic origin
     White, non-Hispanic 3.2 3.5 3.7 3.6
     Black, non-Hispanic 1.3 2.4 4.2 3.0
     Hispanicc 75.1 71.2 76.6 73.9
     Other, non-Hispanic 44.1 53.4 58.3 45.5
Regiond
     Northeast 10.5 13.5 16.2 15.1
     Midwest 3.7 4.9 5.6 5.9
     South 6.8 10.7 11.1 11.7
     West 17.0 24.2 27.2 26.4
Children who have difficulty speaking English
Number (in thousands) 1,250 1,850 2,178 2,431
Percentage of children ages 5-17 2.8 4.4 4.9 5.1
Race and Hispanic origin
     White, non-Hispanic 0.5 0.8 0.6 0.7
     Black, non-Hispanic 0.3 0.5 1.3 0.9
     Hispanicc 28.7 27.4 29.9 31.0
     Other, non-Hispanic 19.8 20.4 21.0 14.1
Regiond
     Northeast 2.9 4.8 5.3 5.0
     Midwest 1.1 1.3 1.6 2.3
     South 2.2 3.8 3.5 3.4
     West 6.5 8.8 10.4 11.4
Percentage of those speaking another lanugage at
home who have difficulty speaking English
32.7 34.9 34.2 36.5
Race and Hispanic origin
     White, non-Hispanic 17.3 22.6 17.2 19.0
     Black, non-Hispanic 25.6 22.5 31.0 31.8
     Hispanicc 38.2 38.5 39.0 41.9
     Other, non-Hispanic 44.9 38.1 36.1 31.1

a Respondents were asked if the children in the household spoke a language other than English at home and how well they could speak English. Categories used for reporting were “Very well,” “Well,” “Not well,” and “Not at all.” All those reported to speak English less than “Very well” were considered to have difficulty speaking English.
b Numbers in this year may reflect changes in the Current Population Survey because of newly instituted computer-assisted interviewing techniques and/or because of the change in the population controls to the 1990 Census-based estimates, with adjustments.
c Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.
d Regions: Northeast includes CT, ME, MA, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, and VT. Midwest includes IL, IN, IA, KS, MI, MN, MO, NE, ND, OH, SD, and WI. South includes AL, AR, DE, DC FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA, and WV. West includes AK, AZ, CA, CO, HI, ID, MT, NV, NM, OR, UT, WA, and WY.
Source: National Center for Education Statistics. Tabulations based on October 1992 and 1995 and November 1979 and 1989
Current Population Surveys, U.S. Bureau of the Census. As published in Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 1998, Table POP4.

 

Figure EA 3.4 Percentage of children ages 5 through 17 in the United States who speak a language other than English at home and who are reported to have difficulty speaking English,a by race and Hispanic origin:b 1995

a Parents were asked if their child spoke a language other than English at home and how well the child could speak English. Categories used for reporting were “Very well,” “Well,” “Not well,” and “Not at all.” All children who were reported to speak below the level of “Very well” were considered to have difficulty speaking English.
b Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.
c Non-Hispanic.
Source: National Center for Education Statistics. Tabulations based on October 1992 and 1995 and November 1979 and 1989 Current Population Surveys, U.S. Bureau of the Census. As published in Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 1998, Table POP4.

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