U.S. Hispanics and the English Language

March 25, 2015 Author: Roy Eduardo Kokoyachuk

My business partner had a meeting with the consumer insights person at a Fortune 500 Company last week and mentioned that the executive said they were not focusing efforts on Spanish speaking Hispanics because “They’ll end up speaking English anyway.” I was a bit shocked to hear that comment in 2015 and in the same week that the largest Spanish language broadcaster in the U.S., Univision Communications, announced its plan to go public. Interestingly, when the initial television stations were being purchased to form what would eventually become Univision in the late 60’s and early 70’s banks were not eager to lend money to the project because “They’ll all end up speaking English anyway.” I've spent the past 15 years of my career focused on the U.S. Hispanic market and I've heard that phrase more times than I can count and yet the Spanish language persists.

The latest reason for assuming that Spanish will go the way of the Dodo is that Hispanic births in the U.S. are starting to outpace immigration. While it’s true that the U.S. Economic downturn of 2007 dried up a lot of the jobs that were drawing Hispanics to the country immigration is likely to increase as our economy improves. The President’s recent executive actions may actually play a role in increasing immigration - specifically by lifting the threat of deportation for undocumented migrants who have U.S. born children. It’s thought that without the threat of deportation these migrants will be less willing to work under the backbreaking conditions they put up with in the agricultural sector and seek less difficult employment. This will, in turn, free up jobs which will draw new immigrants from Latin America.

Another reason people think immigration will slow is that birth rates are decreasing in Latin America. While that’s true, the U.S. will continue to draw Latin American immigrants because the endemic problems present south of the border continue to push people out in search of opportunity. Even if immigrating were to slow a bit, those who do come will continue to add to the total number of Spanish speakers in the U.S. This increase in total numbers nourishes a Spanish speaking ecosystem in the U.S. Every year it’s becoming easier to live in the U.S. while speaking little or no English. In fact, now that my mother is retired, she speaks less English than she did in the 70’s. Aside from Univision and Spanish language radio, she also gets satellite TV from Buenos Aires, Facebooks her friends in Argentina, and socializes with Cubans, Guatemalans, Colombians and Mexicans in her hometown of Beaumont, CA. This new ecosystem encourages Hispanic immigrants to continue to speak Spanish longer than previous waves of immigrants and de-stigmatizes speaking Spanish.

Finally, we need to consider that the U.S. has been out of sync with the world in our monolingual past. Citizens of most other developed countries speak at least two languages with over-achievers in Belgium and Switzerland speaking three or more. As an immigrant in the 1970’s I remember when speaking Spanish at school would have gotten me mocked or punched at school. My daughter does not have that problem. Growing up in Southern California she encounters scores of other Spanish speakers and has formed friendships with schoolmates based on their ability to speak Spanish. She’s proud of being able to speak another language and may well pass that on to her kids someday. While bilingualism is the fastest growing language group, Spanish speakers are growing and will continue to grow in the U.S. for the foreseeable future.

This blog post was originally published on Total Market Views, where you can view other posts about marketing strategies and ideas from a professional market researcher's perspective.

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