The Spanish language is putting up a valiant fight. With 52 million Hispanics in the U.S. and the number of Spanish speakers on the rise, it looks as though Spanish is here to stay; however, historically speaking, the United States has earned a reputation as the place where good languages go to die. In the late 1800s/early 1900s, legions of immigrants arrived from places such as Italy, Russia and Germany, but by the third generation, their maternal languages had fallen by the wayside in favor of English. Will Spanish suffer the same fate with today’s new wave of immigrants from Latin America?
The truth is that the U.S. Hispanic population has benefited from economic conditions, technology, and demographic and geographic factors quite different from those experienced by European immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries.
- Sheer numbers: The U.S. is home to some 50 million Spanish speakers versus 10 million German speakers (previously, the largest group of non-English-speaking immigrants).
- Shared background: The majority of Spanish-speaking immigrants hail from Mexico (some 30 million).
- Geography: Mexico, Puerto Rico and Cuba’s geographic proximity to the U.S. means that recent immigrants are less likely to completely dissociate themselves from their homelands, unlike immigrants who’ve left behind countries thousands of miles away.
- 21st century conveniences: Ease of travel, Spanish-language media, and Internet access have all contributed to elevated socioeconomic status for many immigrants. Freedom of movement and communication leads immigrants to reconnect with their roots and prevents the ghettoization that occurred during the great period of European immigration.
A recent market research study by Nielsen (“The Hispanic Market Imperative”) advises that companies continue to court the Latino segment. The study revealed the following statistics:
- 37% of Hispanic adults who primarily spoke English as children later learned enough Spanish to be considered bilingual.
- Nine out of 10 Hispanic parents or parents-to-be want their children to speak both English and Spanish.
- Hispanic adults say they want to be more Latino (31%) or bicultural (60%) than they are currently.
- Estimates show that 56% of Latino adults speak primarily Spanish at home, compared to 40% who speak primarily English.
Hispanics are the largest immigrant group in U.S. history to show significant culture sustainability; they’re not vanishing into the American melting pot. America—if you haven’t done so already— take note.