A Tale of Two Languages
Editorial by David Morse, President and CEO, New American Dimensions
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
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