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Study: U.S. Latinos’ Views of Spanish Language

“I call her my secretary because she helps me deal with all my businesses,” said Nashua resident Maria Martinez of her daughter, Yareni. “She understands my Spanish.”

“[I feel] kinda insecure about how I speak Spanish because I am not really good at it,” Yareni told NHPR about the great responsibility she feels translating forms and talking with doctors because her mother does not trust interpreters.

An estimated 11 million U.S. children translate for their parents, according to Rudy Valdez, director of the short film “Translators.” The acclaimed documentary short film provides a poignant, personal perspective into the lives of three immigrant families, highlighting the crucial role young translators play in the daily experiences of their older counterparts.

While most U.S. Latinos speak Spanish: 75% say they can converse in Spanish well or very well. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, 24% of all Latino adults state they can only carry on a conversation in Spanish a little or not at all. Among third- or higher-generation Latinos, a much higher share are not Spanish speakers: Close to two-thirds (65%) of third- or higher-generation Latinos say they cannot carry on a conversation well in Spanish.

Most Latinos (65%) say it is at least essential that future generations of Latinos in the U.S. speak Spanish, including a third who say it is extremely important. Only 5% say it’s not at all critical.

42% of Latino immigrants say future U.S. generations of Latinos must speak Spanish.

A quarter of U.S.-born Latinos say the same.

A fifth of U.S.-born Latinos say it is not too or not at all important, while only 7% of foreign-born Latinos say the same.

The report also finds that about half of U.S. Hispanics who do not speak Spanish have been shamed because of it. 54% of Hispanics who say they speak no more than a little Spanish say another Hispanic person has made them feel bad for it.

Some Hispanics make jokes about those who do not speak Spanish. Four in ten Hispanic adults say they hear other Hispanics make jokes, extremely often or often, about Hispanics who do not speak Spanish or don’t speak it well.

“As long as you try your best to speak in both languages,” Yareni said. For her, it’s about more than speaking Spanish perfectly; it’s about using it in her daily life.


Cover Photo: George Milton

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