E.g., 12/18/2014
E.g., 12/18/2014

English Abilities of the U.S. Foreign-Born Population

Adjust Font    |    Print    |    RSS    |    Reprint Permission

English Abilities of the U.S. Foreign-Born Population

 
English-speaking abilities of the foreign-born population, age five years and over, of the United States: 2000

(View Table)

 

In the United States, the foreign-born population increased from 19.8 million in 1990 to 31.1 million in 2000. Given this increase in the total population, it is not surprising that the number of foreign born who speak a language other than English at home has also increased over the last decade. According to the U.S. Census 2000, of the foreign born age five and over, the number who speak a language other than English at home increased from 15.4 million in 1990 to 25.5 million in 2000, representing a 65 percent increase. The proportion of immigrants who speak a language other than English has also gone up, from 79 percent in 1990 to 83 percent in 2000. This Spotlight examines the ability to speak English among the foreign born at the national, regional, and state levels.

Click on the bullet points below for more information:


The majority of the foreign born in the United States speak a language other than English at home.

According to Census 2000, of the 30.7 million foreign born over the age of five, 25.5 million, or 83 percent, spoke a language other than English at home.

Back to the top


The states with the largest numbers of foreign born who speak a language other than English at home are California, Texas, and Florida.

As of the 2000 Census, the three states that had the largest number of foreign born who spoke a language other than English at home were California (958,357), New York (961,572), and Florida (551,074). These three, along with Texas, were the four states with the largest foreign-born populations.

Back to the top


The proportion of the foreign-born population who speak a language other than English at home varies considerably by state.

In 2000, the proportion of the foreign-born population over the age of five who spoke a language other than English at home varied considerably. Montana, with 46 percent, was the state with the lowest percentage, followed by Maine (53 percent), Vermont (55 percent), and North Dakota (56 percent). The states with the highest percentages were Texas, California, and Illinois (each with 89 percent).

Back to the top


Among the 10 states with the largest foreign-born populations, New York, Washington, Massachusetts, and Florida have the largest percentages of immigrants who speak a language other than English at home.

Results from Census 2000 showed that the 10 states with the largest foreign-born populations included California, New York, Texas, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Arizona, Washington, and Georgia. Of those, New York (25.1 percent), Washington (22.4 percent), Massachusetts (21.9 percent), and Florida (20.8 percent) had the highest percentages of immigrants over the age of five who spoke a language other than English at home.

Back to the top


The West region has the highest percentage of foreign born who speak a language other than English at home; the Northeast has the lowest.

According to Census 2000, the West (87 percent) had the highest percentage of foreign born over the age of five who spoke a language other than English at home, followed by the South (83 percent), the Midwest (82 percent), and the Northeast (77 percent).

Back to the top


The majority of the foreign born who speak a language other than English at home speak English "very well" or "well."

At the national level in 2000, 65 percent of the foreign born over the age of five who speak a language other than English at home speak English "very well" or "well." Conversely, 35 percent had limited English proficiency, including 23 percent who spoke English "not well" and 12 percent who spoke English "not at all."

Back to the top


There are nine states where over 40 percent of the foreign born who speak a language other than English at home have limited proficiency.

Limited English proficiency refers to the percentage of the population who speak English "not well" or "not at all." In 2000, there were nine states where over 40 percent of the foreign born over the age of five who spoke a language other than English at home had limited proficiency. These included Texas (43.9 percent), Arkansas (42.5 percent), New Mexico (42.3 percent), North Carolina (42.3 percent), California (41.7 percent), Nebraska (41.2 percent), Colorado (41.1 percent), Idaho (40.2 percent), and Georgia (40.1 percent). The states with the lowest percentages were West Virginia (11.3 percent), Montana (11.5 percent), and Vermont (12.1 percent).

Back to the top


The states with the highest percentages of non-English speakers are Texas, Arizona, Arkansas, and Colorado.

According to Census 2000, Texas (18.4 percent) had the highest percentage of foreign born over the age of five who spoke a language other than English at home and who spoke English "not at all," followed by Arizona (18.1 percent), Arkansas (16.2 percent), and Colorado (16.1 percent). The states with the lowest percentages were Vermont (1.4 percent), Montana (1.6 percent), West Virginia (1.7 percent), and Maine (2.4 percent).

Back to the top


The region with the highest percentage of non-English speakers is the South; the Northeast has the lowest.

In 2000, among the foreign born age five and over who spoke a language other than English at home, the South (14.2 percent) had the highest percentage who spoke English "not at all," followed by the West (13.7 percent), the Midwest (9.2 percent), and the Northeast (8.6 percent).

Back to the top

Source: Census 2000 and the 1990 Census of Population and Housing.