Today's immigrants are learning English more quickly than the throngs of German-Americans who migrated to the United States more than 100 years ago, a new study concludes.
The report from the Journal of Transnational American Studies, first noted by Fusion, analyzes communities of German-Americans who lived in Wisconsin in the 1910s. Politicians have for years painted a mirror image of the study's findings, insisting that the prevalence of the Spanish language in American life is irregular and dangerous.
Researchers James Salmon of the University of Wisconsin and Miranda Wilkerson of Columbia University selected early German-speaking communities in Wisconsin and compared them to today's immigrant communities.
"[Today's rhetoric] seeks to portray non-English speakers in the U.S. as profoundly marginal along demographic, economic, geographic and social parameters," the study says. "In fact, many communities, including prototypical 'good old immigrants,' lived here for decades -- and in fact generations -- without learning English, like the Wisconsin German communities treated here."
Thirteen percent of residents exclusively spoke German in Hutisford, a small southern Wisconsin town. As late as the early 1930s, teachers in the region "could hardly speak English or spoke it grudgingly."
Today's immigrants are outperforming the communities Salmon and Wilkerson studied. According to Fusion, 92 percent of second generation Latinos living in the U.S. speak English "very well," and nearly all third-generation Latinos speak the language.
The findings come as Republicans call for an English proficiency requirement to be included in comprehensive immigration reform. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) proposed an amendment last week that would toughen requirements for prospective legal permanent residents to "demonstrate an understanding of the English language, including an ability to read, write, and speak words in ordinary usage in the English language." The "gang of eight" bill already has such a requirement, but Rubio proposed cutting out a loophole for those enrolled in English courses.
Spanish's prominence in American culture is a relatively new phenomenon--The Miami Herald only established its own Spanish-language daily, El Nuevo Herald, in 1976. But German once held a similarly dominant role as a second language; Joseph Pulitzer, for whom the famous prize is named, began his writing career working for a German paper in St. Louis. It was one among hundreds of German-language papers across the United States.