For the purposes of developing a strategy for the preparation and dissemination of Spanish-language materials, it is particularly important to know something about the English language abilities of this population. In other words, what is the population of Spanish-speaking workers whose English is insufficient to enable us to reach them effectively with Occupational Safety and Health materials in English? The census survey addressed this question, asking about the individual’s ability to speak English and found the following results:

TABLE 1 Ability to Speak English

Population 18–64 Years Old

Estimate

Lower Bound*

Upper Bound*

Speak Spanish

18,519,675

18,339,602

18,699,748

Speak English “very well”

9,198,012

9,062,738

9,333,286

Speak English “well”

3,364,412

3,291,434

3,437,390

Speak English “not well”

3,787,984

3,694,688

3,881,280

Speak English “not at all”

2,169,267

2,082,805

2,255,729

*Using 90 percent confidence interval.

Thus, there are an estimated 18.5 million working age people in the United States, for whom Spanish is the primary language. It is perhaps surprising to find that some two-thirds of these individuals report being able to speak English “well” or “very well.” The remaining approximately 5.96 million report speaking English “not well” or “not at all.” It is also important to remember that there is a substantial population of immigrants working in the United States without legal documents, a high percentage of whom speak little or no English, and who were missed in the census count. Despite a more successful effort at a comprehensive count in 2000 than in previous censuses, a certain degree of under-counting among recent immigrants was inevitable.

An analysis of the records of 1,668 Hispanic immigrant job seekers at a community center in Durham, North Carolina, for example, found that a much lower proportion spoke good or fluent English than that found in the census. The analysis broke down as follows:

TABLE 2 Hispanic Community Job Information Center Clients, Durham, North Carolina

English Ability

Number

Percentage

None

609

36.5

Little

719

43.1

Good

129

7.8

Fluent

83

5.0

 

SOURCE: Data from the Hispanic community Job Information Center, at the Centro Hispano in Durham, North Carolina. Surveys conducted among job seekers from approximately January 2001 through March 2002. English ability was self-reported. Data from 20 African immigrants was excluded from these results.

It should be noted that this group of immigrants is primarily composed of recent immigrants from Mexico and Central America and may not be representative of the Latino population of the area as a whole. However, it is representative of the recent Latino immigrant population, which is likely to be working in the highest risk jobs in this country. The discrepancy regarding English-language capacity with the census figures—with less than 13 percent of this group speaking English well—is



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