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America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2017

Language Spoken at Home and Difficulty Speaking English

Children who speak languages other than English at home and who also have difficulty speaking English19 may face greater challenges progressing in school and in the labor market. Once it is determined that a student speaks another language, school officials must, by law, evaluate the child's facility with English and provide services such as special instruction to improve the child's English, if needed.

Indicator FAM5: Percentage of children ages 5–17 who speak a language other than English at home and who have difficulty speaking English or live in a limited-English-proficient household, selected years 1979–2015
Indicator FAM5: Percentage of children ages 5–17 who speak a language other than English at home and who have difficulty speaking English or live in a limited-English-proficient household, selected years 1979–2015

NOTE: Numbers from the 1995 and 1999 Current Population Survey (CPS) may reflect changes in the survey because of newly instituted computer-assisted interviewing techniques and/or because of the change in the population controls to the 1990 Census-based estimates, with adjustments. A break is shown in the lines between 1999 and 2000 because data from 1979 to 1999 come from the CPS, while beginning in 2000 the data come from the American Community Survey (ACS). The questions were the same on the CPS and the ACS questionnaires.

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey and American Community Survey.

  • In 2015, about 22 percent of school-age children spoke a language other than English at home, and 4 percent of school-age children both spoke a language other than English at home and had difficulty speaking English.
  • The percentage of school-age children who spoke a language other than English at home varied by region of the country in 2015, from a low of 13 percent in the Midwest to a high of 33 percent in the West.
  • In 2015, the percentage of school-age children who had difficulty speaking English also varied by region, from a low of 3 percent in the Midwest to a high of 6 percent in the West.
  • Approximately 58 percent of school-age Asian-alone children and 62 percent of school-age Hispanic children spoke a language other than English at home in 2015, compared with 6 percent of White-alone, non-Hispanic and 6 percent of Black-alone, non-Hispanic school-age children.1
  • In 2015, some 14 percent of school-age Asian-alone and 12 percent of school-age Hispanic children spoke another language at home and had difficulty speaking English, compared with about 1.1 percent of White-alone, non-Hispanic and 1.2 percent of Black-alone, non-Hispanic school-age children.20
  • About 5 percent of school-age children spoke a language other than English at home and lived in a limited-English-proficient household in 2015. A limited-English-proficient household is a household in which no one age 14 or over speaks only English at home, or in which no one age 14 or over speaks a language other than English at home and speaks English "very well."

table icon FAM5 HTML Table

1 Federal surveys now give respondents the option of reporting more than one race. Therefore, two basic ways of defining a race group are possible. A group such as Black may be defined as those who reported Black and no other race (the race-alone or single-race concept) or as those who reported Black regardless of whether they also reported another race (the race-alone or-in-combination concept). This indicator shows data using the first approach (race-alone). Use of the single-race population does not imply that it is the preferred method of presenting or analyzing data. The U.S. Census Bureau uses a variety of approaches. Data on race and Hispanic origin are collected separately. Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.

19 Adult respondents were asked if the children in the household spoke a language other than English at home and how well they could speak English. Categories used for reporting how well children could speak English were "Very well," "Well," "Not well," and "Not at all." All those who were reported to speak English less than "Very well" were considered to have difficulty speaking English based on an evaluation of the English-speaking ability of a sample of children in the 1980s.

20 The percentage of White-alone, non-Hispanic children ages 5–17 who spoke English less than "Very well" (1.1 percent) was statistically different from the percentage of Black-alone, non-Hispanic children who did so (1.2 percent).