Language Emphasis Shifts with Latino Generations

While U.S. Latinos view Spanish as an important element of cultural heritage, successive generations place less emphasis on the language than earlier immigrant arrivals. The more distant immigrant connections become, ensuring the language lives on with children declines as a priority.

The snapshot on the use of Spanish within Latino homes, reported by analysts with The Pew Research Center, shows 85 percent of Latino parents telling researchers they speak Spanish to their children, according to the 2015 National Survey of Latinos. However, differences in the degree of using Spanish in the home shows variation over multiple generations. For example, 97 percent of immigrant parents report using Spanish with their children. However, for those U.S.-born second-generation Latinos– a category that includes individuals with at least 1 immigrant parent– only 71 percent of respondents report Spanish as the primary language used with children. For third-generation Latinos– those individuals born in the U.S. to U.S.-born parents– the share drops to only 49 percent of the group who use Spanish with their children.

Latino parents with a non-Latino spouse or partners provide another marker of Spanish-use decline. In families where both adults are Latino, around 92 percent speak Spanish to their children. This compares to only around 55 percent who speak Spanish to their children when only 1 of the adult parenting figures is Latino.

Pew estimates Spanish dominance among 61 percent of Hispanic immigrants and 32 percent of the group bilingual. Among second-generation Hispanics, only 6 percent identify as Spanish dominant. The rate drops to only 1 percent of Spanish-dominant speakers among third-generation and higher Latino immigrants. By contrast, English-language dominance rises across the generations. Pew reports just 7 percent of Latino immigrants as English dominant while the share goes to 75 percent among third-generation Hispanics.

While the numbers reflecting Spanish-language use dip over time, “U.S. Latinos say it’s important for future generations of Hispanics to speak Spanish,” according to Pew. The research organizations report “88 percent say it is important to them that future generations of Hispanics living in the U.S. be able to speak Spanish, with the vast majority holding this view across generations.” Spanish is used at home by about 40 million people, which makes the language the second-most dominant language in the country.