Friday, April 30, 2010

Who doesn't speak English in the US?

I've been waiting for early news from the US Census on language. And here's some. It's not actually the current Census, of course, but the American Community Survey. (The little article in the link is mostly valuable for the link to the Census report.)

There's plenty of interesting information in the report (check out Appendix A for the history of language questions on earlier censuses), but note for the moment that it gives pretty detailed information on people who don't speak English very well.

One of the most bizarre memes out there among the anti-immigration folks is that Spanish is overrunning English — that English is endangered in parts of this country. If you have heard such stuff, just consider the number of people who report knowing English 'not well' or 'not at all'. Out of 280 million people, 4.5 million report not speaking English at all. (Click on the graphic to see a good version of it.)


GAC said...

Just a note. I'm working for the 2010 Census. Most people in the US should already know that the main questionnaire (what you hopefully turned in) doesn't have a language question. Enumerator* forms do have a section to tell what language the interview was conducted in**, so language data from the Census is probably going to come from a supplemental survey with a random sample.

*Enumerator is the title for the guy who goes door-to-door for people who didn't turn in their forms -- my job
**there is no alternate-language version of this form, just a help sheet for Spanish(which our area didn't get apparantly). Otherwise we have to translate the questions ourselves.

James Crippen said...

Some important points can be easily gleaned from these data which can be used against the logophobes.

19 percent of the US population speaks something other than English at home. 12 percent of the population speaks Spanish or something like it at home.

Only 5 percent of the population has limited English fluency since the majority of people who speak non-English at home report also speaking English well or very well.

5 percent is such a tiny minority that the number is almost meaningless. I’m sure that a century ago when the USA was being overrun by German, Irish, and Slavic immigrants (oh the horror!) that there were many more people with limited fluency in English than there are now.

Oh, and if you’re worried about that 5 percent then you should be pushing harder for ESL teaching. If they’re that much of a problem then you might as well be part of the solution.

GAC said...

OK, that spammer is just plain annoying. I have email alerts on this post and I just get that same post over and over.

Seriously, what is the issue with Blogger and spam? I get spam comments on a blog that has been dead for about two years!

Mr. Verb said...

Yeah, tell me about it: I'm going through and killing all this crap. we've long gotten occasional blogspam, but this is the first real attack we've suffered.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you should specifically say 4.5 million rather than 4.5. Despite 4.5 being a quite unlikely number of people (or maybe impossible with that half), it did not occur to me there 4.5 million was meant until I looked at the graph.