Immigrant kids prefer English

Immigrant parents “struggle to keep their children bilingual,” reports the Boston Globe. Even if the parents speak their native language at home, children respond in English.

Rubén G. Rumbaut, a sociologist at the University of California at Irvine, and his team of researchers looked at 5,700 adults in their 20s and 30s in Southern California from different generations to see how long their language survived. A key finding centered on 1,900 American-born children of immigrants. The shift toward English among them was swift: While 87 percent grew up speaking another language at home, only 34 percent said they spoke it well by adulthood. And nearly 70 percent said they preferred to speak English.

“English wins, and it does so in short order,” said Rumbaut, who presented his findings to the US House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration in May.

It’s easiest to retain Spanish. Sixty percent of Mexican-Americans raised in Spanish-speaking families say they speak Spanish well in early adulthood; half prefer English. By the third generation, 10 percent are fluent in Spanish and all prefer English.

U.S.-born children of Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese immigrants lose their parents’ language more quickly; less than 25 percent say they’re fluent as young adults.

I have a hard time seeing this as a problem of the school system. Parents can teach their children at home or get together with others to start Saturday language schools, like the Chinese immigrant parents in Silicon Valley. Young adults who realize fluency in their parents’ language would be a career asset can build on their base knowledge, however neglected. Most don’t need to speak two languages well. They do need to be fluent and literate in English.

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  1. SuperSub says:

    Is it truly English that these individuals adopt? Or is it some sort of hybrid that really doesn’t fit in either culture?

  2. Wow… never had seen these numbers. Thanks for sharing. I bet they prefer it because most of their friends (at school, etc) speak english, and it allows them to feel more accepted in society (which is the way it should be). At any rate, it was an insightful read :). I also wanted to tell you that I am trying to get a conservative digg alternative going called GOP Hub ( Anything you can do to help spread the word would be awesome. Plus feel free to submit any articles you write here on your blog :). Take care and have a great week!

  3. AndyJoy says:

    My great-great-grandparents immigrated to the US from Germany in the 1890s. They intentionally didn’t pass down the German language to their children because for them it was a source of pride for their children to be full-fledged American citizens, speaking English as fluently as everyone else. That mindset seems to be less prevalent today.

  4. Bill Leonard says:

    This is an incredibly interesting topic.

    I have had Japanese-American business associates who, being third- and fourth-generation, admit they speak (or spoke) only “kitchen Japanese” — in other words, enough as younger children to converse with grandparents at a child’s level of sophistication.

    My wife and I have an Italian-American friend with a similar experience. Grandma lived with her family until she was about six; she learned Italian to talk with grandma. But when grandma died, she almost never spoke Italian again, beyond Italian films, and funny and sarcastic in-group expressions, which seems to be true of virtually every ethnicity that emigrated to these shores.

    In California, where I live, Spanish at this time is the exception. I suspect that is because of the ubiquitous Spanish reinforcement that occurs for all sorts of reasons, positive and negative.

    One thing the Spanish-speaking should understand: for reasons of place and assimilation, Anglos often understand a LOT more Spanish than you think we do.

  5. Some first generation immigrant parents I know REFUSE to let their kids immerse in the new country’s culture. (mine included) It only made the kids (me) even more determined to assimilate and fit in.

    I don’t think Americans should be afraid that immigrant families are not becoming more American. They eventually do at least by the 3rd generation. No matter how resistant some immigrant communities/families are to mainstreaming… eventually, their children will realize the only way to get ahead is by adapting.

    This article does not surprise me

  6. SuperSub says:

    The problem is that if a high immigrant population is reached in an area, there will be no reason for the 2nd or 3rd generations to even begin to speak English.

  7. supersub

    Yes there is. To fit in. To be cool. To better their lives.

    Have you SEEN immigrant neighborhoods? Not the very best America has to offer.

    It’s not that the 2nd or 3rd generations WANT to be Americanized. It’s that they want a better life – just like most human beings want. And you can’t achieve that (social climbing, whatever) without integrating into the predominant culture.

    Yes, there are immigrant neighborhoods that are steeped in their own cultures and are really isolated. And they remain so, not because of the 2nd/3rd generations, but because of NEW immigrants coming in.