March 24, 2015

A majority of English-speaking Hispanics in the U.S. are bilingual

About six-in-ten U.S. adult Hispanics (62%) speak English or are bilingual, according to an analysis of the Pew Research Center’s 2013 National Survey of Latinos. Hispanics in the United States break down into three groups when it comes to their use of language: 36% are bilingual, 25% mainly use English and 38% mainly use Spanish. Among those who speak English, 59% are bilingual.

Majority of U.S. Latinos Use English or are BilingualLatino adults who are the children of immigrant parents are most likely to be bilingual. Among this group, 50% are bilingual, according to our 2013 survey. As of 2012, Latinos with immigrant parents (defined as those born outside the U.S. or those born in Puerto Rico) made up roughly half (48%) of all U.S.-born Hispanics. By comparison, a third (35%) of Hispanic immigrants are bilingual, as are a quarter (23%) of those with U.S.-born parents.

Widespread bilingualism has the potential to affect future generations of Latinos, a population that is among the fastest growing in the nation. Our 2011 survey showed that Latino adults valued both the ability to speak English and to speak Spanish. Fully 87% said Latino immigrants need to learn English to succeed. At the same time, nearly all (95%) said it is important for future generations of U.S. Hispanics to speak Spanish.

Bilingualism is measured in our National Surveys of Latinos by asking Hispanic adults to self-assess their language abilities. Respondents rated their ability to carry on a conversation in Spanish and how well they can read a book or newspaper written in Spanish. The same questions are posed about their English-speaking ability. Bilingualism is linked to age. Some 42% of Hispanics ages 18 to 29 are bilingual. That share falls to about a third among Hispanics ages 30 to 49 and ages 50 to 64, but rises again, to 40%, among those ages 65 and older.

Due in part to bilingualism, in 2013 Spanish was the most spoken non-English language in the U.S., used by 35.8 million Hispanics in the U.S. plus an additional 2.6 million non-Hispanics. Overall, three-in-four Hispanics (73%) ages 5 and older speak Spanish in their homes, when including those who are bilingual.

Given the expected demographic changes, what is the future of language use among Hispanics in the United States? According to Census Bureau projections, the share of Hispanics who speak only English at home will rise from 26% in 2013 to 34% in 2020. Over this time period, the share who speak Spanish at home will decrease from 73% to 66%.

And as a sign of the times, Spanglish, an informal hybrid of both languages, is widely used among Hispanics ages 16 to 25. Among these young Hispanics, 70% report using Spanglish, according to an analysis we did in 2009..

Topics: Hispanic/Latino Demographics, Language

  1. Photo of Jens Manuel Krogstad

    is a writer/editor focusing on Hispanics, immigration and demographics at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Ana Gonzalez-Barrera

    is a research associate focusing on Hispanics, immigration and demographics at Pew Research Center.

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10 Comments

  1. Malcolm G Boswell1 year ago

    First, lets get the term correct: Bi-lingual means a person is relatively fluent in two languages, and we must agree that language is not just speaking but reading and writing. Not everyone who can speak another language does so proficiently, proficiency is a function of understanding the language well enough that their is an expectation that a person proficient in another language can read and write it at the average grade level as a native person. For purposes of defining a person as being a bilingual worker, this expectation of reading and writing along with the ability to speak the language is growing in importance when discussing the value of bilingualism as an “added value” to finding work and commanding the bilingual pay differential. Understand that not all bilingual jobs require a person to read and write in both languages, but those that pay the differential usually do, as does those that requires a higher level of professionalism or interaction with customers using multiple means of communication. As a Hispanic American who grew up in Latin America, I value my Hispanic heritage as much as I do my U.S. heritage. And I am proud to see that more first and second generation Hispanos are becoming more proficient in English, and hope they keep the Hispanic heritage of teaching the third and subsequent generations the value of learning their language of origin well (read, write as much as speak Spanish) there is so much beauty in our literature that is lost in translation, as is the original accounts of history from our own historians perspectives. Congratulations on a well written article, would like more detail on reading and writing proficiency though.

    Reply
  2. felix fernandez de castro garteiz1 year ago

    One Day…a Little Mariposita was flying over the Jardín, cuan de repente she hostied at the flores; and the poor pequeña butterfly, con a broken ala said: what a gilipollas I am.
    (Spanglish)
    And, seriously, great article, as usual.
    Thank you
    Yours always
    Felix

    Reply
  3. Luis Arroyo1 year ago

    The Puerto Rican numbers (my ethnicity) utterly destroys the BS that the Colonial anti statehood party in Puerto Rico and US mainland bigots jointly use to argue Puerto Rico shouldn’t be a state despite the fact the supermajority of 8 million PR Americans are bilingual.
    Puerto Ricos “Commonwealth” Democrat party has for decades spent millions on racist usefull idiot GOP lobbyists to spread fear among GOP congressmen about a “Spanish Quebec where no one speaks english”.
    Thank you.
    BTW in 2012 GOP governor Luis Fortuño (There goes the no GOP in PR myth) conducted a two step referendum on status.
    Question 1 “Do you favor keeping the current (unincorporated Commonwealth)territorial status? 54% NO.
    Question 2 ” Which non territorial permanent status do you choose?”
    61% statehood.
    These are the results among those who respected the election. 25% cast blanc ballots at the request of the “commonwealth” party for identifying the commonwealth as “territory” (IT IS!!!) Even with the shinanigans, statehood STILL won the plurality numbers. Now the governing commonwealth ( “popular” democrat party) party is intentionally bankrupting PR to disqualify it from statehood.

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  4. felix fernandez de castro garteiz1 year ago

    I’m a bilingual (both Spanish English) Spaniard tha lives in Spain.
    Have to say, with shame and regret, that my country language (español) has more respect in the USA than in some spanish regions, the so called autonomías, specially in Cataluña; I forbid mysel to call those provinces “Catalonya” or whatever.
    Hope it’s OK for me to comment your stadistics in my private bloq, mentioning procedence.
    Congratulations for your great work.
    With my best wishes,
    Felix

    Reply
  5. ana celia zentella1 year ago

    I agree that the title and the opening paragraph are inaccurate, and confusing. The 62% refers to ALL Hispanics, and is the result of adding up Mainly English (25%) and Bilingual (36%). Their English ability is clear. BUT Only 50% of the second generation is bilingual, and the loss of bilingualism in the third generation is worrisome [23%] . Of course, we can argue that the metric used by the study to determine BILINGUALISM, i.e. equivalent ability to converse AND READ in SPanish is too stringent.

    Reply
  6. Betty Cardona1 year ago

    I WOULD LIKE TO BEGIN BY THANKING YOU FOR THE GREAT JOB YOU ARE DOING.
    I WOULD ALOS LIKE TO KNOW THE STATUS OF THE LANGUAGE ISSUE IN REFERENCE TO A HIGHER PAY FRO BEING ABLE TO SPEAK SVEREAL LANGUAGES. WHY ISN’T THE GOVERNMENT PAYING US FOR THAT SKILL? OKAY, OUR APPLICATIONS STATE THAT IT IS A REQUIREMENT FOR US TO SPEAK ENGLISH, HOWEVER, WHY AREN’T THE ENGLISH SPEAKING EMPLOYEES REQUIRED TO SPEAK ANOTHER LANGUAGE? WHERE IS THE EQUALITY? I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW IF THERE IS SOMETHING BEING DONE. I KNOW THIS HAS BEEN AN ISSUE FOR QUITE A LONG TIME, BUT NOTHING ELSE HAS BEEN SAID. IS THIS STILL BEING FOUGHT. JUST CURIOUS TO KNOW, THANK YOU.

    Reply
  7. Pilar1 year ago

    Sorry to disagree, but the title “A majority of English-speaking Hispanics in the U.S. are bilingual” is a proposition saying that the majority of Hispanics living in the U.S. (regardless of their immigration status or other variables) who happen to speak English, also speak Spanish, therefore they are bilingual, and therefore, the majority of Hispanics in the U.S. are bilingual. Whether the proposition is true or false is beyond the point.

    Reply
  8. Mike Favetti1 year ago

    Isn’t the definition of Bilingual that of one being able to speak two languages? Therefore just the fact they speak Spanish and now English makes them Bilingual. Sort of self evident, don’t you think?

    Reply
  9. Doug Herbert1 year ago

    The headline is phrased in a way that is easily subject to misinterpretation. It implies that almost half of second-generation Spanish-speaking immigrants do not speak English. But that’s completely wrong, as the article itself makes clear. 92% of second-generation Spanish-speaking immigrants speak either mainly English or mainly English and Spanish together.

    Only 8% speak mainly Spanish — and obviously most of those speak at least some English.

    With anti-immigrant types out there consciously distorting studies for their own purposes, I am concerned about this potentially misleading headline.

    Reply
    1. Malcolm Boswell1 year ago

      I think the more we further stereotyping, the less we are able to hold meaningful dialogue. Because someone disagrees with your perspective does not make them anti-immigrant. When you raise this stereotype, you raise defensive walls that interfere with communication and reason. Your point was well made without the need for stereotyping others as anti-immigrant. Does discrimination exist, yes it does, but we don’t need to feed it with stereotyping. Better to make well reasoned arguments. And sometimes, when you hear something nonsensical that is truly racist or discriminatory I will ask you follow my abuela’s advice: “A palabras necias, oídos sordos!”

      Reply