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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Knowledge of Languages

Our chapter on foreign policy and national security discusses gaps in the American public's knowledge of other countries.  Language is a barrier. Americans are less likely than people in other developed countries to know a second language.  Gallup reports:
Thirty-four percent of Americans say they know a second language well enough to hold a conversation. Knowledge of a second language is higher among Hispanics, those with higher education levels, younger Americans, and those living in the East and West.

Hispanics are nearly twice as likely as whites or blacks to say they know a second language.

Seventy-four percent of Hispanics interviewed in English said they know a second language, almost all of whom identified that second language as Spanish. A much smaller proportion of Hispanics interviewed in Spanish, 23%, said they know a second language. Almost all of those respondents identified the second language as English.

Overall, Americans who speak a second language overwhelmingly identify Spanish as their second language, at 60%, followed by French (18%) and German (12%). At least 1% of Americans claim to know each of 13 other languages.

While it is not surprising that a majority of U.S. Hispanics who know a second language say they can speak Spanish, a majority of bilingual whites and blacks also say they can speak Spanish. After Spanish, French is the next-most-common second language among blacks and whites, while it is English for Hispanics. Whites are a lot more likely than blacks or Hispanics to speak German.