US: English loses ground--Nearly 20% of Americans speak a different language at home.

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sun Nov 23 17:43:40 UTC 2008

English loses ground Nearly 20% of Americans speak a different language at
*In more than 5.5 million "linguistically isolated" households, no one over
14 can speak English well.*

*Listen to conversations* around America's dinner tables these days and the
voices you hear may well be holding forth in Spanish, Russian or
Chinese. Nationally,
nearly one of every five people over the age of 5 spoke a foreign language
at home in 2007, the Census Bureau says. That is a dramatic change since
1990, when just 13.8% of people spoke a foreign language at home. The
changes are due, in part, to the burgeoning growth of the Latino population,
which has doubled in size since 1990.

More than 34.5 million people older than 5 spoke Spanish at home in 2007;
another 8.3 million spoke Chinese or another Asian language at home. California
is the state with the highest concentration of foreign-language speakers,
42.6%. And in some pockets of the country, it's rare to hear English at all.
In Hialeah, Fla., just 7.5% of its residents spoke English at home in 2000.

The nation has started to see a growing number of linguistically isolated
households, in which no one over 14 years old speaks English well. More than
5.5 million households were linguistically isolated in 2007, including about
one of every four Spanish-speaking households. It's a serious barrier for
them, hampering not only their job prospects, but also their ability to get
emergency help from doctors, police or firefighters.

"There's a tremendous hunger to learn English," says John Trasvina,
president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and
Educational Fund. But there aren't enough places that teach the language.
Gone are the old night schools that once taught English to immigrants. Now,
there are year-long waiting lists for English classes in some areas of the
country, Trasvina says.

Recent lawmaking exacerbates the situation. Last year, Arizona banned
undocumented people from paying in-state rates for community college
classes. A decade ago, California passed a law restricting bilingual
education in public schools. And today, more than half of U.S. states have
laws mandating English as their official language.

*-- Rochelle Sharpe*

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