Report: Future Generations Learn English
The immigration debate is contentious in this country today.
One of the things that has surprised me is the visceral reaction toward would-be Americans who have not learned English. I would be less surprised if more Americans spoke a second language. Thus, their argument has always struck me as a "do as I say and not as I do argument" if only for the fact that is very difficult for older people to learn a second language.
Having taken linguistics courses and having friends who are linguists, the data have always suggested that this is a moot point if one accounts for time. All existing data show that subsequent generations have no problem learning English, this trend continues, and the original native language is soon lost among future generations.
That is, without any policies or hate speech, the "hated" original language is lost on subsequent generations. With a widely spoken world language, such as Spanish, the language lives on elsewhere. The far more tragic case is when a language dies out and is lost when no native speakers remain (e.g., as is the case with several Native American languages).
New data from the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center and reported in the New York Times offers more data supporting this hypothesis.
Among the first generation in America, only 23% speak English well. However, that number rises to 88% among the second generation and 94% of the third generation.
Patience pays off. By the third generation, the native language has all but disappeared.
Communication is a basic part of the human experience. Although there surely are some immigrants who want a "Great Wall of China" exclusionary boundary around their native language, most yearn to communicate in their new land. This is exceedingly difficult for most older members of the first generation who never attempted to learn a second language as a young person.
But for subsequent generations, it seems almost automatic.
To me, this is not a political issue. It's simply a matter of looking at the data.