A Tale of Two Languages

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Jul 29, 2005
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Editorial by David Morse, President and CEO, New American Dimensions

www.newamericandimensions.com

A new study, a “landmark” one with “startling results” as touted by its authors in a press release last week, proclaims that the Spanish language is here to stay — “here” being here in the United States, of course.

According to the press release that was picked up by The Miami Herald, HispanicBusiness.com, and well, yours truly, the study “challenges the assumption that the use of Spanish will decrease in coming years as succeeding generations of Hispanics are born and grow up in this country.”

The study goes on to say, “It’s not just because of continuing immigration. Unlike other immigrant groups, even third-generation Hispanics – those born of Latin parents who themselves were born in the United States – will continue to speak Spanish in extraordinary numbers.”

The study was conducted by Roslow Research Group, whose founder Peter Roslow, is the author of the controversial “advertising effectiveness” studies that have “demonstrated” that Spanish language advertising is more effective than English – even with teens (I’ll have more on that later). Said Mr. Roslow, “We believe this study sets the record straight as it relates to the future use of the Spanish Language (sic) here in the United States.”

Here are the record straightening findings the authors chose to disclose:


  • By 2025, the number of Spanish speaking Latinos in the United States will reach 40.2 million, up from 27.8 million today
  • Fully two-thirds of Hispanics 5 and older will speak Spanish 20 years from now
  • On average, 35 percent of third-generation Latinos in the United States speak Spanish
  • The 18-and-older Spanish speaking population will increase by 53 percent, to 15.2 million by 2025
  • The key 8-to-49 year old demographic will grow by 7.5 million, and will include 59 percent of all Spanish speakers

Jose Cancela, founder and principal of Hispanic U.S.A., and a former executive with several Spanish language radio and television stations and mayoral candidate in Miami commissioned the study. He said, “The fact is that Spanish connects on an emotional and visceral level with Hispanics in a way that English does not. We want to be courted in the language we make love in; for most of us that would be in Español.”

Moderator’s Comment: Should marketers stick to Spanish even when marketing to second and third generation Hispanics?

Mr. Cancela may make love in Español, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen a study that undertook to look into that subject. Maybe my company will take
that one on.

But others have taken on the subject of what language Hispanics speak, and they clearly point to a second generation that is either bilingual or English
dominant, and a third generation that would be taxed to carry on anything but the simplest of conversations in Spanish. (Maybe love making, as Mr. Cancela implies, falls into
that category.)

Study #1: According to the Pew Hispanic Center’s 2002 study of Hispanics, 46 percent of second generation Hispanics preferred English, 47 percent were bilingual
and 7 percent were Spanish dominant. By the third generation, 78 percent of second generation Hispanics were English dominant and 22 percent were bilingual.

Study #2: In a longitudinal study conducted in 1992 and 1996 by sociologists Alexandro Portes and Ruben Rumbaut of second generation teens in Southern Florida
and California, 72 percent of Mexicans, 89 percent of Nicaraguans, 90 percent of South Americans and 95 percent of Cubans preferred English by the time they graduated high school
– a clear increase from four years earlier when they were freshmen.

Study #3: A 2005 article by sociologist Richard Alba in the Migration
Policy Institute’s publication concluded that nearly 80 percent of third generation Hispanics spoke only English.

Study #4: A 2002 study that we conducted at my former company, Cultural Access Group, found that among Hispanics 14 to 24 years old, 57 percent in Los Angeles
preferred English and 87 percent in New York.

Last February, Harvard Professor Samuel P. Huntington created an international ruckus when he wrote an article called “The Hispanic Challenge” that began
with the words, “The persistent inflow of Hispanic immigrants threatens to divide the United States into two peoples, two cultures, and two languages.” As the four studies above
will attest, he was wrong, and no one objected more strongly than U.S. Hispanics.

What I find most troubling about the Roslow / Hispanic U.S.A. study is that it has an agenda, promoting the need for Spanish language marketing, and minimizing
the fact that millions of Hispanics prefer English. It is misleading. It paints a picture that Hispanics are not acculturating, when in fact they are. It feeds the kind of misguided
nativist emotionalism that Professor Huntington’s study provoked.

Hispanic U.S.A. is selling its study for $400. That’s one check that I, for one, will not be writing.
– David Morse – Moderator

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14 Comments on "A Tale of Two Languages"


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David Berg
Guest
David Berg
14 years 25 days ago

The ad message must be congruent with the product message, and move the prospect towards a purchase (not away from). Language is one part of the overall message the ad sends.

I think the rule is simple – test your assumptions. Spanish language marketing may work well for one product, and poorly for another – even when targeting the Spanish speaking population.

Different groups will respond differently to the same ad. Therefore, each ad should be tested with those people likely to see the ad.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question.

David Morse
Guest
David Morse
14 years 25 days ago

I appreciate all the thoughtful comments today. Paricularly Rochelle’s. And I don’t think the Spanish language is going away anytime soon. I am certain that, contrary to Mr. Roslow’s conclusions, it will be immigrants that keep it alive and fresh — not the third generation.

As I wrote this piece last night, I thought of an expression I learned in Mexico: “English is the language of business, French the language of love, and Spanish is the language with which to speak with God.”

I offered up a prayer, in Spanish, to get the piece right — to communicate my thoughts without causing undue offense. In that moment, I realized just how beautiful, divine a language Spanish is.

!Que viva el Español!

Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
Guest
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
14 years 25 days ago
To wonder why Spanish might wind up having a slightly different “retention-rate” than other languages spoken by other immigrants to the U.S. is to ignore the geographical proximity of Mexico, South and Central America (and the Caribbean)… Not to mention the economic benefits of Spanish as a second language for job hunters in the years to come. Again, I’m language neutral when it comes to US Hispanic marketing (whatever helps me sell my clients’ products to the right audience in the most efficient and effective way is prioritized), but I can’t help but react to some of the dialogue being offered up in this forum. The inability to understand why a culture that has deep roots on what is now US soil, and has a history that dates back thousands of years, would want to enjoy a bilingual reality and use English and Spanish in varying context of their lives. Be careful about making too many assumptions that use prior immigration history as the only barometer. The world has changed quite a bit since the… Read more »
sheryl card
Guest
sheryl card
14 years 25 days ago

As an urban marketing professional, I am frequently amazed at the vehemence with which many Hispanic marketing professionals blindly defend Spanish language advertising. It is clear to me that it should be about culture, not language. As many here have indicated, there are millions of Hispanics whose primary language is English. David Morse’s take on this subject is right on the money.

Rick Moss
Guest
14 years 25 days ago

A number of years back, NASA did an experiment in space that involved a huge sail, propelled by the solar wind, using a miles-long, fishing line-thin tether to drag its cargo. Guess what? The tether broke. The team of scientists had done all the physics calculations, I’m sure, down to the Nth decimal point. But we just thought, “Of course it broke. Any idiot could have told you that was gonna happen.”

This researcher may be able to demonstrate statistically that the Spanish language will flourish, even as future generations of Hispanics acculturate, but we all know that ain’t gonna happen. It’s just common sense. Such a trend would contradict what’s occurred with each successive immigrant wave in this country and in others. The U.S. will continue to be a melting pot, unless something really fundamental is happening to our society that is escaping our notice.

Warren Thayer
Guest
14 years 25 days ago

You’re correct, David, of course, and your argument is well documented and essentially bullet-proof. (Remind me to never get on your bad side!)

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 25 days ago

I’ve been advised by ethnic people that non-English marketing campaigns can have an unintended downside, as well as an upside.

The unintended downside is that some ethnic group members may perceive ethnic brands, ethnic media, and ethnic marketing campaigns as “downmarket.” Many of these people want to join the American Dream, and part of that is acquiring “American” products and shopping at “American” stores. Many shoppers base their choices on their heart-felt aspirations for the future.

Ian Percy
Guest
14 years 25 days ago

I’m totally behind David on this one. Just because you put your signage in Spanish or even talk in the language doesn’t mean you’re serving the needs of Hispanics. Heck, I see English signs all the time and people even talk in English but I still don’t get personalized service worth a damn. Why will it be any different for Latinos? Poor service in Spanish; poor service in English – what’s the difference?

Those who narrow the cultural marketplace down to language alone are missing the boat just as with those who narrow the issue of diversity down to skin color alone.

I will be happy, if asked, to contribute my considerable statistical and investigative skills to David’s research on making love in Spanish. Ahhhh…the language of love! Who can really know its depths?

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
14 years 25 days ago
The language I make love in is — well, it isn’t Spanish, English, or any other language you’ve heard of. But perhaps you’ve unknowingly used this language yourself from time to wonderful time. David Morse; what a wonderful, insightful, and informed commentary. It’s about time someone with your credentials challenged self-serving hoo-haw like that from the Roslow Research Group. It’s too bad you don’t have a Latino surname, though, a factor which will unfortunately cause some to question your conclusions and motives. Our nation is becoming bilingual, catching up with most of the other nations in the world. It’s no biggie, and no reason to think that we must advertise in the so-called “secondary” language as is quaintly mandated in Canada. Here, and in nearly every country, everyone with a brain recognizes what the primary language of business (and love) is, and gets on with their lives secure in that knowledge. A tip of the hat, too, to Rochelle’s informative comments. But, the dismissal of agenda-oriented Spanish language defenses because there is “agenda-oriented work on… Read more »
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
Guest
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
14 years 25 days ago
Since I entered the US Hispanic marketing arena 25 years ago, the future of Spanish has been highly debated. I can tell you that 25 years ago, the conversation was that the language would die out in five years…and every five years there was more of the same. Get over it already, folks. Spanish is not Yiddish. It’s not a dying language for a whole host of reasons. First of all, not since the 50’s has it been treated as a “punishable” language, and it was never treated as a “secret” language as Yiddish was (the language your parents spoke when they didn’t want the kids to know what was being said). Second of all, the Americas (the continent) hold more Spanish speakers who, in spite of regional differences between groups (Puerto Ricans vs. Peruvians, Mexicans, etc.) all understand each other (unlike the smaller sized enclaves of German, Italian and the diverse languages that the Asian communities have). Immigration will continue. Y mas y mas y mas y mas. (And so on and so on… Read more »
Herb Sorensen
Guest
14 years 25 days ago
I agree about the dominance of English among second, third, . . . generation Hispanics. At the same time, there is a significant difference between Hispanics and other cultures that have been assimilated. Quite a few states of the United States began as Spanish outposts and have a strong Hispanic culture that is even nurtured by the gringos there. Couple this with the ready movement across a very long shared border and it is obvious that this culture is going to play a continuing and probably increasing role in mainstream America. After all, we are unlikely to hear in the future any American refer to “take-o’s” as I heard at a drive-in in the early 60’s in my college town. The study being discussed here is obviously by an advocate of Spanish language growth and influence in the US. Other comments here may represent some “English-only” advocacy. Good marketers may appear to be advocates for marketing purposes, but will maintain their objectivity. At a recent IIR Shopper Insight conference in Chicago, we heard some advocacy… Read more »
Bernice Hurst
Guest
14 years 25 days ago

Proportionately there may be more Hispanic immigrants to the US today than any other single population group in history but, historically speaking, by the third generation no other language was predominantly used by the children of immigrants. I can’t really see any reason why Spanish should be different. Sure, some people will continue speaking and teaching it in their homes but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be used a great deal outside of their homes or that they must be addressed in it by marketers.

Evan Gordon
Guest
Evan Gordon
14 years 17 days ago
While I greatly respect Mr. Cancela, having worked for him for four years of my career, I must strongly disagree with his report and endorse the comments displayed here by David Morse. One of the numbers that David left out from the Pew study is that zero % of 3rd-and-higher generation U.S. Hispanics are Spanish dominant. In the next 20 years, 75% of the Hispanic population growth will come from the 2nd and 3rd-and-higher generations (U.S.-born Hispanics). Births have already far surpassed immigration and this trend will never be reversed. There are currently over one million Hispanic babies being born in the U.S. every year. 61% of U.S.-born Hispanics are English language dominant and another 35% are bilingual. That leaves 4% that would be Spanish dominant. So let’s do the math. If 25% of the growth in the next 20 years would be from first generation and first generation is 72% Spanish dominant, then an additional 75% is from U.S. born Hispanics that are 4% Spanish dominant. That would break down to at least a… Read more »
Anne Villarreal
Guest
Anne Villarreal
13 years 9 months ago
My father, a second generation Hispanic American, often says, upon receiving Spanish language direct mail, “Oh look, they understand my kind.” Then he tosses it in the trash. My mother, a fifth generation Hispanic American hangs up on telemarketers who immediately launch into Spanish language pitches with an “I don’t know what you’re saying.” I have serious reservations about a lot of these studies and frankly doubt that the information is quantitative or qualitative. I’ve watched, for example, researchers going into communities with large Hispanic populations, scanning for people with Spanish surnames then declaring the results as true for the nation. They often have theories they want to prove and set about doing just that. Do these researchers realize that many Hispanics have last names that are not clearly Hispanic or not Hispanic at all? Of course they do. Do they realize that Hispanics live in every state in the union, not just the border areas? Of course. Would interviewing them hurt or possibly destroy their theories? Yes again. As a Hispanic myself living in… Read more »
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