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.
RubÃ©n 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.