"For immigrants to be successful, they must learn to speak English, improve their education and job skills, and understand the law and what is expected of them"
Michael E. Alpert, Chairman Little Hoover Commission, Sacramento, California
For immigrants, learning the English language is an important pathway to integration, opening the door to new worlds and opportunities and expanding their contributions to U.S. society.
Although most immigrants arrive in the United States with limited English skills, they recognize the benefits of English proficiency and are highly motivated to learn. Increased English proficiency in immigrant families is highly correlated with economic and social well-being. It can lead to increased income for wage earners, greater school readiness for children, and improved intergenerational communications within immigrant families.[source] According to the 2000 Census, fluent English-speaking immigrants earn nearly double that of non-English speaking workers (see Figure 1) and have substantially lower unemployment rates.[source] While differences in educational background and immigration status contribute to this income gap, developing English fluency by itself generally leads to increased household income.[source]
Figure 1: Hourly Wages of Immigration Workers by English Language Proficiency, 2000
From society's standpoint, helping immigrants learn English also has many other benefits. It facilitates the integration of newcomers into the local community, helps them become more economically productive, and allows them to participate more fully in and contribute to society.
Despite the large growth in the U.S. immigrant population and the benefits of promoting English proficiency, federal and state funding for English as a Second Language (ESL) classes has not kept pace. In many localities, immigrants face long waiting periods for enrollment. Massachusetts, for example, has more than 180,000 residents on waiting lists for ESL classes, with an average wait of six months to two years.[source] Similar shortages of ESL courses exist in a number of other communities.[source] The lack of funding for ESL also means that many classes are overcrowded and lack updated curriculum and equipment.