Myths about bilingual children

In this video, Brenda K. Gorman (PhD in Communication Sciences and Disorders with a specialization in language and literacy development of bilingual children.) discusses four common myths associated with bilingualism:

1. It causes children to be delayed

2. It is confusing

3. Bilingual children are less smart

4. Speaking English only gives better chances of success in life

And she concludes by saying that it is better for parents to communicate with their children in the language they speak best, in order to provide them with richer grammatical and vocabulary models.

The whole interview is very interesting as it shows some of the reasons why minority/heritage languages, for example, are suppressed by English or other majority languages. But I thought that the 4th myth, the one about having better chances of success is the most relevant in this case because she argues that reducing to one language, in this case English, can cause negative emotional and social impacts within the family, as the child may feel excluded.

English Only vs. English Plus

As it was mentioned in an article I posted earlier there are those who defend the English Only policy, and others who defend the English Plus policy. Here is a list of which states adopt which policy

State Official English Laws

English Plus Resolutions

Copyright © 1997-2008 by James Crawford. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce this page for free, noncommercial distribution, provided that credit is given and this notice is included.


The forgotten language

In the previous post you’ve seen how expressive is the number of Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog and French speakers, but the survey failed to mention a very important minority language: American Sign Language. Here is an article from the Gallaudate University Library which discusses the issue of disregarding ASL, as well as a failing to properly estimating its number of speakers:

American Sign Language (ASL) is commonly said to be “the fourth most-used language in the United States” (alternatively phrased as “the third most-used non-Englishlanguage in the U.S.”). This claim has been around since the early 1970s. We have seen an assertion that this comes from research done for the Bilingual Courts Act of 1974, which supposedly established that ASL was the fourth most-used language in the U.S. The strongest claim is asserted by Mitchell, Young, Bachleda, and Karchmer of the Gallaudet Research Institute, who in 2004 traced the origin of this claim to a single study done in 1974. This study, known as the National Census of the Deaf Population (NCDP), asserted that the total of sign language users in the U.S. was close to a half-million strong.

However, the 2004 survey revealed several serious flaws in the NCDP, not least of which included the caveat that American Sign Language, specifically, was not pointed out in the course of the study; no distinction was made among the various sign language systems then extant in the deaf population. As such, those numbers probably do not reflect the true number of ASL users in 1974, nor do they offer substantive guidelines for the possible population of ASL users in 2010.

Other data can still be used to draw reasonably plausible conclusions, however; Harlan Lane, Robert Hoffmeister, and Ben Bahan say in A journey into the deaf-world (San Diego, Calif.: DawnSignPress, 1996, p.42):

ASL is the language of a sizeable minority. Estimates range from 500,000 to two million speakers in the U.S. alone; there are also many speakers in Canada. Compared to data from the Census Bureau, which counts other language minorities, ASL is the leading minority language in the U.S. after the “big four”: Spanish, Italian, German, and French.

In other words, according to Lane, Hoffmeister and Bahan, ASL is currently the sixth most-used language in the U.S., or the fifth most-used non-Englishlanguage in the U.S.

However, depending on the figures and data chosen, other interpretations yield other rankings. For example, consider these figures for “Non-English Language Speaking Americans, 2000”, extracted from the 2004 Time Almanac (for languages “spoken at home” and also supplied by the Census Bureau, which ignored ASL when surveying languages):

Spanish  28,101,052
Chinese 2,022,143
French 1,643,838
German 1,383,442
Tagalog 1,224,241
Vietnamese 1,009,627
Italian 1,008,370
Korean 894,063
Russian 706,242
Polish 667,414
Arabic 614,582
Portuguese 564,630
French Creole 453,368

Using the high figure of 2,000,000 users of ASL, it would place third on this list, behind Spanish and Chinese. On the other hand, using the low figure of 500,000, ASL would fall to 12th place on this list, behind Portuguese and ahead of French Creole. Intermediate estimates for ASL obviously will produce intermediate ranking results.

To add to the confusion, in its article on American Sign Language this almanac repeats the common assertion that ASL “is the fourth most used language in the United States today.” Using the list above, this would imply an ASL-using population greater than 1,643,838 but less than 2,022,143 users (between Chinese and French). However, there simply is no firm basis for this or any other estimate.

Ross E. Mitchell, Travas A. Young, Bellamie Bachleda, and Michael A. Karchmer of the Gallaudet Research Institute (GRI) wrote an article entitled “How Many People Use ASL in the United States? Why Estimates Need Updating” which was published in Sign Language Studies (Spring 2006, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp. 306-335). The draft of the manuscript is available on the GRI web site.

* * * * * * * * * *

Prepared by Tom Harrington
Reference and Instruction Librarian
May 2004Updated: May, 2010


Linguistic Diversity Census

A survey carried out by the U.S. Census Bureau shows a significant increase in the number of people who speak a language other than English in the USA. Here is the full article which includes a list of the most spoken languages:

New Census Bureau Report Analyzes Nation’s Linguistic Diversity

Population Speaking a Language Other than English at Home Increases by 140 Percent in Past Three Decades

     The number of people 5 and older who spoke a language other than English at home has more than doubled in the last three decades and at a pace four times greater than the nation’s population growth, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau report analyzing data from the 2007 American Community Survey and over a time period from 1980 – 2007. In that time frame, the percentage of speakers of non-English languages grew by 140 percent while the nation’s overall population grew by 34 percent.

Spanish speakers accounted for the largest numeric increase — nationwide, there were 23.4 million more speakers in 2007 than in 1980 representing a 211 percent increase. The Vietnamese-speaking population accounted for the largest percentage increase of 511 percent (1.0 million speakers) over the same timeframe.

The new report, Language Use in the United States: 2007 [PDF], identifies the states with the highest concentrations of some of the most commonly spoken non-English languages. The languages, and some of the states with the highest percentage of speakers of these languages, include: Spanish (Texas, California and New Mexico), French (Louisiana and Maine), German (North Dakota and South Dakota), Slavic languages (Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut), Chinese (California, New York, Hawaii and Massachusetts) and Korean (Hawaii, California and New Jersey).

“The language data that the Census Bureau collects is vital to local agencies in determining potential language needs of school-aged children, for providing voting materials in non-English languages as mandated by the Voting Rights Act, and for researchers to analyze language trends in the U.S.,” said U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves.

Data on the speakers of non-English languages, as well as their English-speaking ability, routinely are used to help shape legislative, legal and marketing decisions.

Of the 281 million people 5 and older in the United States in 2007, 55.4 million individuals — or 20 percent — reported speaking a language other than English at home. While the Census Bureau codes 381 detailed languages, data tabulations generally are not available for all of those detailed groups. Instead, the Census Bureau collapses them into smaller sets of “language groups.” The simplest collapse uses four major groups: Spanish, other Indo-European languages, Asian or Pacific Island languages, and all other languages. Of those people surveyed in this report, 62 percent spoke Spanish, 19 percent spoke other Indo-European languages, 15 percent spoke an Asian or Pacific Island language, and 4 percent spoke some other language.

Among people who spoke a language other than English at home, a majority reported speaking English “very well.” The range varied from around 50 percent of the Asian or Pacific Island language speakers to 70 percent of those who spoke some other language.

The report also found:

  • After English and Spanish (34.5 million speakers), Chinese (2.5 million speakers) was the language most commonly spoken at home. Five other languages have at least 1 million speakers: Tagalog (1.5 million speakers), French (1.4 million speakers), Vietnamese (1.2 million speakers), German (1.1 million speakers) and Korean (1.1 million speakers).
  • The largest group of English-only speakers (78.3 million) were 41 to 64, compared with the 42.3 million speakers 5 to 17, and 72.4 million speakers aged 18 to 40 and 32.6 million speakers 65 and over.
  • Among Spanish speakers, nearly as many were native-born as foreign-born — 17.0 million versus 17.5 million, respectively. This was not the case for the other three major language groups — all three were sizably more foreign-born. Also, of Spanish speakers, 53 percent reported speaking English “very well.”
  • Not all languages have grown in use over the years: Italian, Yiddish, German, Polish and Greek were spoken at home by fewer individuals in the United States in 2007 than in 1980.

Also being released today are state by state and national tables, using the 2006-2008 American Community Survey multiyear data, that list every language reported by at least one person in the sample period.

The tables detail the 303 languages other than English spoken at home. Those languages include:

Heritage Languages Mapping

Here are two maps that show the distribution of heritage languages in the United States:

As discussed in an earlier GeoNote on religion in the United States, major patterns on a map often conceal more subtle – and often more interesting – configurations. A similar problem occurs with language maps: mapping a majority language often masks the extent of various minority languages.

Consider, for example, the issue of Heritage languages in the U.S. The term “heritage languages” refers to both immigrant languages such as Spanish, Tagalog, or Russian, and Indigenous Native American languages. Among the nearly 400 heritage languages spoken in the U.S. today, Spanish is by far the most prevalent: of the 55.4 million people who spoke a language other than English at home in 2007, 34.5 million spoke Spanish. Moreover, Spanish is the most widespread non‑English language in the majority of U.S. counties, as can be seen from the map at the top of this note. Only three significant areas of non-English, non-Spanish language use are revealed by this map. First, Native American languages are spoken at the “four corner” area of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico, as well as in certain counties of Wyoming, Montana, and Oklahoma. Second, two relatively small French-speaking areas stand out: one in Louisiana and the other in the New England states of New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. Third, a modest German-speaking belt stretches from Montana through the Dakotas and into Minnesota and Wisconsin.

However, if Spanish is taken out of the picture, a different spatial pattern is revealed. For one, the Native American language zone becomes much more extensive. Another curious discovery is that French is spoken in a much larger area as well, extending from Louisiana to Mississippi and Arkansas, and from the three New England states mentioned above to much of upstate New York and Massachusetts. In fact, many counties between those two francophone centers have a French-speaking presence. On the other hand, there are also numerous counties, chiefly in Texas, but also in some other states, where only English and Spanish are spoken. Other areas where predominant immigrant languages are revealed by this map include the Tagalog-speaking area in Southern California, and the Scandinavian Belt in the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Wisconsin (here, mapped as “Other languages”). Finally, German, which according to the earlier map was widespread only in some northern states, emerges as a kind of “default” heritage language, without a clear geographical pattern. Thus, excluding Spanish from consideration helps reveal certain interesting patterns while concealing others.


Globalization vs. Culture

In the following link, you can read an article from a magazine called The Futurist, which discusses the vitality of minority languages considering the relationship between culture and one of the biggest threats to such languages: globalization.It shows how globalization suppresses identity in favour of standardization which is resulting in the death of thousands of languages and, consequently, the death of important elements of their culture. It also discusses how that process can be reverted through examples of minority languages such as Catalan and Welsh that managed to remain alive despite the pressures of majority languages and globalization itself.