Making It in the United States

Among foreing-born Latinos, most feel that Learning English is the road to success.

According to recent surveys conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center, a large margin of U.S. Hispanics are convinced that immigrants need to learn English before they will truly be a part of American society. Even more of them believe that English should be taught to immigrant children. This opinion is strongly held by Hispanics across the board, regardless of income, political party affiliation, fluency in English, or how long they’ve been in the U.S.

In 2003 and 2004, the Pew Hispanic Center, along with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, conducted public opinion surveys that included the issue of learning English. One specific survey asked Latinos whether they think immigrants have to learn English to be fully accepted in American society. Another survey asked whether teaching English to immigrant children is very important, somewhat important, not too important, or not important at all.

Fifty-seven percent of Latinos who responded believe that immigrants have to speak English to be part of American society. Forty-one percent say they do not share this belief. Of native-U.S.-born Latinos who were surveyed, 52 percent responded that they do not believe that immigrants should have to learn English, while 57 percent of immigrants believe it is very important. The view that immigrants have to learn English to be successful in American society is held by a clear majority of Latinos, regardless of how wealthy they are or their level of education (2004 National Survey of Latinos: Politics and Civic Education).

There are statistical differences depending on party affiliation, religion, and age, though there are clear majorities in all instances. Among Latino Republicans, almost two-thirds believe immigrants have to speak English; for Democrats it’s 52 percent, and Independents hold to the majority at 58%.

Two-thirds of Protestants, as well as those who claim “born again” status, take the view that immigrants have to speak English to integrate into American society, as do a little more than half (52 percent) of Catholics. Older Latinos are more likely to hold the view that immigrants need to speak English than younger Latinos.

On the subject of teaching immigrant children to speak English, Latinos overwhelmingly hold this belief. Ninety-two percent of Hispanics hold this view, whereas only 87 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 83 percent of blacks do. Foreign born Latinos are the most fervent in their opinion that immigrant children should be taught English (96 percent), compared to native-born Latinos (88 percent).

What might be the most revealing bit of information gleaned from all these studies is the number of people who said that teaching English to immigrant children is not important; only 2 percent of Latinos held this view, compared to 27 percent of non-Latinos.

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