Center for American Progress

RELEASE: New Report on Language Diversity and English Proficiency Among AAPI Communities
Press Release

RELEASE: New Report on Language Diversity and English Proficiency Among AAPI Communities

Washington, D.C. — The Center for American Progress, in conjunction with AAPI Data, a project at the University of California, Riverside, released a report today on language diversity and English proficiency among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, or AAPI. This release is part of the report series “State of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders,” which can be found here, and which includes additional fact sheets on public opinion, demographics, education, and immigration.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are among the fastest growing racial groups in the United States, and language diversity is an important aspect to understand these communities. It is particularly important to pay attention to English proficiency, as people who encounter language barriers tend to earn less, have limited access to quality health care, and are less likely to participate in civic and political life.

This latest report highlights the fact that the Asian American population in the United States has the highest proportion of residents who speak a language other than English at home, a proportion that is somewhat higher among the Asian alone population at 77 percent than among the population that is Asian “alone or in combination with other races” at 70 percent.

Other key findings in the language report:

  • Among Asian languages spoken at home, Chinese is the most prevalent (2.7 million speakers, with about 472,000 and 454,000 specifying Mandarin and Cantonese, respectively), followed by Tagalog (1.6 million), Vietnamese (1.4 million), and Korean (1.1 million).
  • The linguistic diversity of South Asian immigrants is also evident, with about 2.8 million speakers of South Asian languages, including eight groups for which there are at least 100,000 speakers in the United States.
  • Asian Americans also have the highest rates of limited English proficiency at 35 percent, which is defined by the Census Bureau as those who do not speak English “very well.”
  • Finally, Asian-language news sources play an important role in how Asian Americans are informed about politics and policy, with a significant proportion that consume both English- and Asian-language media.
  • Overall, Asian-language media consumption is significantly higher for Vietnamese (69 percent), Korean (65 percent), and Chinese Americans (65 percent) than it is for Japanese (31 percent), Filipino (25 percent), and Indian Americans (16 percent).

Language access has important implications to voter access and the turnout of the AAPI community during elections. As the report points out, there is considerable variation in English proficiency across Asian groups, with Japanese, Filipino, and Indian Americans having the highest levels of English proficiency and Vietnamese, Chinese, and Korean Americans having the lowest. Given the proportion of the AAPI population with limited English proficiency, access to ballot language assistance is an important issue for effective civic participation. Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act mandates Asian language assistance in particular counties, but despite these mandates, nearly one in two Asian American voters in 2012 reported that there was inadequate assistance when they voted in person at a polling location covered under Section 203.