Less than half of immigrants speak English very well and about 13 percent don’t speak it at all, according to new numbers the U.S. Census Bureau released Tuesday.
Immigrants who have been here for more than three decades, however, do better — 63 percent report having English-speaking abilities and just 6 percent don’t speak English at all.
“In general, people who migrated to the United States a long time ago speak English better today than those who migrated recently, and those with more education have higher English-speaking ability than those with less education,” said demographer Christine Gambino, who was one of the authors of the new Census report.
The report also found that immigrants are less likely to speak English at home now than they were in 1980. Then, about 70 percent of them spoke another language at home. The rate is now 85 percent.
The new numbers come from the 2012 American Community Survey, which asks respondents whether they speak only English at home, or speak another language. If they spoke another language at home they are asked whether they speak English “very well,” “well,” “not well,” or “not at all.”
The census says there are 40.6 million immigrants aged five and older in the U.S.
Mexicans, who are the most numerous and account for more than a quarter of those immigrants, rank particularly low — 29 percent say they don’t speak English well, and another 18 percent say they don’t speak it at all.
Guatemalans, who number about 852,000, rank lowest, with 31 percent saying they don’t speak English well and 18 percent saying they don’t speak it at all.
Unsurprisingly, education is a major predictor of English skills. About three-quarters of all immigrants who have a bachelor’s degree or higher speak English very well. Just 19 percent of those with less than high school education do so.
The report is available here: http://www.census.gov/prod/2014pubs/acs-26.pdf