According to a study by California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, 40 percent of children who start kindergarten without English fluency won’t be fluent by seventh grade. Sixty percent of those who arrive after kindergarten never will become fluent in English.
As Daniel Weintraub points out in the Sacramento Bee, the results vary dramatically for different language groups.
Native speakers of Hmong and Spanish, for instance, learn English far more slowly than speakers of Mandarin and Korean. The differences are clear by the second grade, when more than 80 percent of Mandarin- and Korean-speaking students score at a level 3 or higher (out of 5) in reading English on the state’s special test for English learners. Among students who speak Spanish or Hmong, fewer than 30 percent reach that level by the second grade.
. . . while native speakers of Spanish and Mandarin start kindergarten with similar grasps of English, by third grade more than half the Mandarin speakers are reading and writing English at a level 4 or level 5 out of 5 while only about 15 percent of Spanish speakers have reached that level.
Of course, there are dramatic differences between Spanish- and Mandarin-speaking parents in education and culture. The children of educated, education-pushing parents start school with a good knowledge of their native language and the will to overcome challenges.