The Humanities in American Life: Insights for Languages other than English
- The study estimates that 16% of American adults often use a language other than English with family and friends.
- A quarter of Americans ages 18 to 29 use a language other than English with family and friends often, compared to only 7% of Americans age 60 and above.
- 7% of White Non-Hispanic Americans often use a language other than English with family or friends (84% do so rarely or never), and 11% of Black Americans use a non-English language regularly (76% do so rarely or never). A substantially larger share of Hispanics (46%) and Asian Americans (64%) use a language other than English frequently.
- The term foreign languages is perceived as favorably as humanities, with 37% of Americans having a very favorable impression of the term. (The survey used the term foreign languages rather than the preferable “languages other than English” based on feedback received from the public during the survey development process.) A greater of share of women than men have a very favorable impression of foreign languages.
- A substantial gap separates White Americans’ and Hispanics’ impressions of the term foreign languages, with 33% of White Americans holding a very favorable impression, compared to 52% of Hispanics.
- Americans with bachelor’s degrees are more likely than less educated Americans to have a very favorable impression of foreign languages.
- While half of self-identified political liberals have a very favorable impression of foreign languages, less than a third of conservatives perceive the term as favorably.
In Childhood and Education
- 63% of Americans feel that teaching languages other than English to children is important.
- Black, Hispanic, and Asian Americans are substantially more likely than White Americans to believe it important that young people learn languages other than English.
- Self-identified political conservatives are markedly less likely than liberal Americans, and somewhat less likely than moderates, to consider languages other than English important for young people to learn.
- Slightly more than a third of Americans who feel that languages other than English ought to be taught in the nation’s schools believe that elementary school is too early for this sort of learning.
- Almost half of adults look back on their educations and wish they had taken more classes in languages other than English—the largest share among a range of humanities and nonhumanities subjects (with survey respondents allowed to select more than one). Forty-nine percent wish they took more courses in languages, followed by computer science (45%), social and behavioral sciences (40%), and business (39%).
- Less than 10% of Americans often use languages other than English in the workplace.
- Nearly half of Americans think that languages other than English are unnecessary for their job.
- Less affluent Americans are more likely than those with higher levels of income to use languages other than English on the job often. And the youngest adults (ages 18 to 29) are substantially more likely than Americans age 45 and above to use languages other than English in the workplace.
- Americans with lower levels of either income or education are more likely to report that difficulty with languages other than English hampered their career advancement.
- 77% of Americans who often use a language other than English in the workplace also often use a language with family and friends.
These findings capture only a small slice of the larger study. Visit https://bit.ly/HumSurvey for the full report of the survey findings, including responses to questions about the humanities as a whole, visualizations comparing languages to the other subjects, and a detailed summary of the responses to every question by gender, age, and other key demographics.
A Guide to Interpreting These Findings
The findings described here are based on a sample of Americans, weighted to produce estimates for the US adult population as a whole. The reported values are estimates and thus have a measure of error (also an estimate) associated with them.
By virtue of the error associated with each estimate (either for the entire adult population or a particular demographic group), observed differences between them may be due to the sample that happened to be drawn for this survey rather than a difference between the actual values in the adult population, which could be known only if a census were conducted. For this reason, only differences between estimates that were found to be statistically significant at the 5% level are noted.
Statistical significance gauges the reliability of an observed difference between two estimates. It indicates how certain one can be that the difference between the two values could actually be found in the adult population and is not due to chance (i.e., not due to the particular sample of adults that was surveyed as part of the study). If a difference between two groups (e.g., Asian and White Americans, or Asian Americans and the entire adult population) is significant at the 5% level, it means that if there really were really no difference between the two groups, a difference as large or larger than the one observed in our sample would be found only 5% of the time.