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English Proficiency Rises Among Latinos as Speaking Spanish Dips

As the share of Latinos born in this country has grown so has the portion that speaks English proficiently, while those who use Spanish at home is on the decline, according to Pew Research Center.

Even so, a record 35.8 million Hispanics speak Spanish at home, a reflection of the growth of the Latino population overall.

Pew’s latest analysis of Census data, released Tuesday, shows that in 2013, 68 percent of Hispanics ages 5 and older spoke English proficiently, up from 59 percent in 2000.

That same year, the share of Latinos in the same age group who said they spoke Spanish at home dropped five percentage points to 73 percent.

"The growing share of those who are English speaking or speak only English at home are driving numbers for proficiency overall," said Mark Hugo Lopez, director of Hispanic research at Pew.

The language pattern is not unlike what has been seen in other immigrant groups such as Germans and Italians.

"Most immigrant groups go through some sort of transition," Lopez said.They usually start out with those who arrive to the U.S speaking the language of their home country and move toward English in subsequent generations, he said.

The greater English proficiency comes as Latinos born in the U.S. have outnumbered those born in other countries by about 2-to-1, Pew said. That has meant U.S. Latino population growth has been driven mostly by Latinos born here, and therefore U.S. citizens, rather than the arrival of new immigrants, as in earlier years.

The researchers found that there has been little change in the share of foreign-born Latinos who speak only English at home or speak English “very well,” hovering around 30 percent.

The longer they are in the U.S., the more proficient in English Latino immigrants, both adults and children, become. But a greater share of Latino immigrant children speak English proficiently than Latino immigrant parents, no matter how long they’ve been in the U.S.

Lopez said that the center's research is showing that as people become more proficient they are hanging on to their Spanish. Use of Spanish continues to rise, even though immigration among Latinos has slowed down.

What's not clear is whether Latinos of this century will keep up the use of Spanish as they move further from the immigrant experience or whether its will persevere because of its presence in society through media and technology.

"Spanish may continue to be part of the community's characteristic in coming decades even though we've seen in other groups ... by the third generation speaking German or Italian tends to disappear," Lopez said.