The Number of Bilingual Kids in America Continues to Rise

Posted January 9, 2018
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog numberofbilingualkids 2018

In 2016, 22% of chil­dren in the Unit­ed States — slight­ly more than 12 mil­lion kids total — spoke a lan­guage oth­er than Eng­lish at home. This rate has risen 2%, by 1.2 mil­lion kids, in the last decade. At the state lev­el, the per­cent­age of kids who do not speak Eng­lish at home varies wide­ly, from a high of 44% in Cal­i­for­nia to a low of 2% in West Virginia.

In the last decade, the largest jumps in this sta­tis­tic have occurred in the Dis­trict of Colum­bia (up 6% to 19% of all kids); Mary­land (up 5% to 19% of all kids); and New Jer­sey (up 5% to 30% of all kids). Beyond Eng­lish, Span­ish is the most com­mon lan­guage spo­ken at home.

Among non-Eng­lish speak­ing house­holds, 4% of chil­dren in Amer­i­ca — or 2.4 mil­lion kids total — have dif­fi­cul­ty speak­ing the nation’s pri­ma­ry lan­guage. Learn­ing Eng­lish is impor­tant because it enables chil­dren to ful­ly par­tic­i­pate in school and Amer­i­can soci­ety, accord­ing to experts. At the same time, stud­ies sug­gest that there are clear ben­e­fits to ensur­ing that a child’s first lan­guage is main­tained. Speak­ing two or more lan­guages is asso­ci­at­ed with increased abil­i­ties to con­cen­trate, solve prob­lems and focus. Being mul­ti­lin­gual is also asso­ci­at­ed with bet­ter men­tal flex­i­bil­i­ty, increased cul­tur­al com­pe­tence, stronger con­nec­tions to place and fam­i­ly, and greater access to high­er-pay­ing jobs.

In 2016, 3% of chil­dren in Amer­i­ca — 2.5 mil­lion kids total — were for­eign-born, a clas­si­fi­ca­tion cat­e­go­ry that includes both chil­dren who are U.S. cit­i­zens by nat­u­ral­iza­tion and chil­dren who are not cit­i­zens of the Unit­ed States. This rate has remained unchanged over the past five years.

Access demo­graph­ic data on the KIDS COUNT Data Center:

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