(May 2002) Many people who immigrate to the United States settle in close-knit communities with other immigrants who share their culture, language, and traditions. In these ethnic enclaves, many new immigrants do not speak English very well, a factor that often isolates them from institutions and opportunities outside of their communities. Data from the Census 2000 Supplementary Survey show that in 2000 there were 19.5 million people in the United States ages 5 and older who did not speak English very well (about 8 percent of the population in this age group). This represents an increase of about 5.5 million people since 1990.

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Children ages 5 to 17 accounted for 15 percent of the population with difficulty speaking English in 2000. Children who have difficulty speaking English “may face greater challenges progressing in school, and once they become adults, in the labor market.”1

There are also many children in the United States who learn English at school, but who live in households that are “linguistically isolated,” in which there are no English-speaking adults. These children could also face challenges if adults in the household cannot effectively communicate with teachers, doctors, and other service providers.

In 2000, people who spoke Spanish at home accounted for 64 percent of the population with difficulty speaking English. Among children with difficulty speaking English, about 73 percent spoke Spanish at home, compared with 65 percent of people ages 18 to 64 and 45 percent of those ages 65 and older.


  1. Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2001): 5.

U.S. Census Bureau: Census 2000 Supplementary Survey