60 Million and Counting: Foreign Language Growth and the Impact on TESOL

posted February 15th, 2015 by Brian Neese

"Hello" in multiple languages

 

According to U.S. Census Bureau figures for 2011, 60.6 million people age five and over spoke a language other than English at home, accounting for 21 percent of the population; in 2000, the figure was at 17.9 percent. Clearly, a significant part of the population speaks a language other than English — a statement true at both a state, such as Florida, and national level. Although English remains the primary language spoken in the United States, other languages such as Spanish, Tagalong and Chinese are growing in popularity.

 

Implications for industries such as business are clear, especially for companies that communicate with or market to an area with high foreign language use. But perhaps the most direct and obvious impact of non-English language growth is on education, where the supply of educators cannot keep up with the demand for English language instruction. As “The Best States to Teach in America” notes, teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) and foreign language subjects were in demand for 62 percent of states in the 2014-2015 school year.

 

If the number of speakers of languages other than English continues to grow, increased demand for TESOL instructors should follow. For the U.S. and for states such as Florida, these trends point to an opportunity in education for both students and teachers.

The Use of Non-English Languages in the U.S.

U.S. Census Bureau data from the 2011 American Community Survey demonstrates the current and historical growth of non-English language use. Along with information on major language groups and immigration figures, you can also view the growth and state of non-English language use.
Data chart of Language Use in the United States

Population Trends

From 1980 to 2010, non-English language use in the U.S. has risen dramatically. While the overall population increased by 38 percent during this time, there was a 158 percent increase in the number of speakers age five years and older who spoke a language other than English at home. In each decade, the percentage of the population who spoke a language other than English at home rose, accounting for

  • 11 percent in 1980
  • 14 percent in 1990
  • 18 percent in 2000
  • 21 percent in 2010

 

According to the most recent and official data from the U.S. Census Bureau, from 2010 to 2011 the total U.S. population age five years and older increased by 2.3 million people. More than 1 million spoke a language other than English at home.

Major Language Groups

Top Spoken Languages in the US

Of the 60.6 million people age five and above who spoke a language other than English at home, 62 percent (37.6 million) spoke Spanish or Spanish Creole. This outperforms any other non-English language in the country by a wide majority, being spoken by approximately 13 times more people than the second most common foreign language in the U.S., Chinese, with 2.9 million speakers. Five other languages have more than 1 million speakers: Tagalog, Vietnamese, French, Korean and German.

 

Historically, many languages spoken in the U.S. have experienced growth. For non-English languages that have data available from 1980 to 2010, 12 of the 17 languages have a positive percentage change. Eight of them have increased by more than 100 percent, four of which have more than tripled since 1980: Vietnamese, Russian, Chinese and Korean.

 

From 2000 to 2011, a number of languages and language groups have seen major growth. Three have more than doubled in this time frame: “other Asian languages” such as Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu; African languages such as Swahili, Amharic, Yoruba and Ibo; and Hindi.

Non-English Language Use and Immigrant Population for the US

Immigration

Immigration has played a significant factor in the growth of non-English languages in the U.S. A majority of the country’s foreign-born population speaks a foreign language, and the rise in immigration and non-English language use go hand-in-hand.

 

According to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), the nation’s foreign-born population age five and over consisted of 40.1 million people in 2011. Seventy-nine percent of 18.1 million naturalized citizens spoke a language other than English, while 89 percent of 22 million noncitizens did the same. The following chart demonstrates the concurrent growth of foreign language use and the rise of immigrant population.

 

From 1980 to 2010, the total population has risen 38 percent. During this period, both immigration (184 percent) and the use of non-English languages in the home (158 percent) increased substantially.

A Look at Non-English Languages in Florida

One of the top states in the country for speakers of languages other than English is Florida. Similar to the growth of non-English languages in the U.S., Florida exhibits immigration trends that help describe and explain such an increase.

Statistics

In 2011, five of Florida’s 18 million people age five and over spoke a language other than English at home — making it the fourth largest state for non-English speakers in the country and the seventh state for largest percentage (27.6) of non-English speakers in the nation.

 

From 2000 to 2011, the number of non-English speakers in Florida increased by 42.8 percent. And from 1990 to 2000, this number increased by 65.6 percent. For all three milestones — 1990, 2000 and 2011 — Florida ranked in the top 10 of all states for total population and percentage of state population age five and over that spoke a language other than English at home.

 

Florida is expected to continue growing in the use of non-English languages, too. According to estimates from the Florida Legislature Office of Economic and Demographic Research (EDR), by 2030 around 6.2 million Floridians aged five and over will speak a language other than English at home.

Immigration

Foreign Born Floridians

According to MPI, the number of foreign born Floridians has increased from 1990 to 2000 and 2013. In 2013, nearly one-fifth of the population consisted of foreign born residents.

 

EDR reports that most of Florida’s population growth is from net migration, which takes the difference between immigrants and emigrants in an area. EDR estimates that in 2030, net migration will represent all population growth in the state of Florida. Given the intensity of population growth in Florida — now the third most populous state, the Census Bureau reports — immigration should remain a strong factor in not only the state’s population numbers, but also the number of individuals who speak a language other than English.

The Opportunity for Education

The increase in immigration and non-English language use in the U.S. highlights the need for TESOL instructors. Today, more educators are needed to help prepare individuals of all ages and ability levels learn the language and cultural skills they need to succeed — especially in a state such as Florida.

Children in Florida

In Florida, the opportunity for English language education is apparent. According to the Florida Department of Education, there are more than 265,000 English language learners (ELLs) in the state, giving Florida the third highest concentration of that population in the U.S.

 

Immigration is not the only factor in the increased need for English languages teachers. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) notes that Florida is one of the top receiving states of unaccompanied children seeking refuge in the U.S., which has implications for language training and educational needs in general, according to Jolie Lee of USA Today.

Instructors in Florida

Educators in the state can help meet this need while enhancing their own marketability, with a specialized master’s degree in TESOL. Because TESOL is generalizable in inclusion states, such as Florida, English language learners are included in the general education classroom. Thus, teachers who hold a specialized TESOL degree are able to increase their ability to manage a classroom and affect all students, without being limited to only teaching English language learners.

 

According to Dr. Amy Bratten, associate dean for the college of education at Southeastern University, other subjects don’t receive the same flexibility. “Not all school systems will pay the extra stipend for the master’s level, unless the master’s degree is within the certification area or within the teaching assignment of the classroom that year,” she said. Bratten also said that in some schools, they won’t pay the extra stipend because it doesn’t apply to what is being taught, but that isn’t the case with TESOL, because the subject is generalizable.

TESOL at Southeastern University

SEU - Gray Seal

For educators who would like to help meet the need for English language instruction, Southeastern University offers an online Master of Education in TESOL. It’s designed for classroom teachers as well as those looking to change careers or teach abroad.

 

With the increase in immigration and the rise of non-English languages across the U.S. population, the need for language instruction is clearly growing. Florida, which is at the forefront of these demographic changes, provides the opportunity for teachers to both improve their own career prospects and increase their ability to help a vulnerable population.


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