Photo: English proficiency
Adult immigrants living and working in places where they are surrounded by others who share their ethnic backgrounds are less likely to learn or be proficient in the English language, say two Purdue University researchers.
In a study of Chinese and Mexican immigrants age 25 and older who came to the United States for reasons other than attending school, Purdue agricultural economists Brigitte Waldorf and Raymond Florax and three research collaborators found that residing and working in ethnic “enclaves” made it easier for immigrants to continue speaking their native language and put off - or avoid altogether - learning English.
Failing to know English hurts an immigrant’s ability to integrate into American society and could limit their occupational opportunities, Waldorf and Florax said. Integration, including the ability to speak English, is at the center of the national debate on immigration reform and “pathway to citizenship” proposals offered by President Obama and Congress.
Living and working among a diverse group of people motivates immigrants to become English speakers, Waldorf and Florax said.
The Purdue study, “Living and Working in Ethnic Enclaves: English Language Proficiency of Immigrants in U.S. Metropolitan Areas,” measured the effects of residential and occupational segregation on immigrants’ ability to speak English and the effects of living with family members who were fluent in English.
Researchers looked at U.S. Census data and previous immigrant studies to produce English proficiency snapshots of non-student Chinese and Mexicans who moved to the United States. Chinese and Mexicans are among the largest immigrant groups.