English Language Learners May Hold Key to Economic Vibrancy of Region, State

One-third of Hartford’s population is Puerto Rican, making it the 4th highest percentage of Puerto Rican people in the continental United States.  But the rapidly increasing diversity of the state’s Capitol City, and the region that surrounds it, only begins there – as do the linguistic and workforce challenges. A new report produced by The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving Latino Endowment Fund focuses on the issues faced by English Language Learners and highlights the opportunities and the challenges of increased cultural and linguistic diversity.report

Approximately one-eighth of the Greater Hartford region’s population consists of foreign-born residents, including 4,800 people who have arrived in the state since 2005.  A total of 500,000 foreign-born residents are now living in Connecticut, including 40 percent who hail from Latin American countries.

During the past 25 years, population growth in the Hartford region has been “almost entirely” driven by foreign-born people taking up residence locally, according to the report. In the Hartford region, more than 1 in 5 people speak a language other than English at home.  About three-quarters of Connecticut English Language Learner (ELL) students speak Spanish.

The report found that the region’s “schools and communities are more diverse than ever, with more than 100 different languages spoken in homes throughout Greater Hartford.”  The report raises the question, “How can we harness the assets of a multilingual population to enhance our community and create stronger links to the global marketplace?”HFPG_VertLogo_rgb

The report notes that “researchers believe that, on average, it takes 2 years to master conversational English, yet 5-7 years to master academic English.”  The report indicated that when analyzing education and workforce data, English Language Learners are far behind their English speaking peers in terms of educational attainment and income.Highlighting one of the challenges for ELL students, the reported found that over the last 4 years, two of the top three teacher shortages in Connecticut have been bilingual and world languages educators.  About 20% of all adult ELLs experienced poverty in the last year, about twice the rate in the state as a whole. In Connecticut, the earned income of ELL adults is $25,000 per year—less than half of English-speakers’ earnings.

population“The Latino Endowment Fund has offered this report as a means to expand the important discussion on efforts to support English Language Learners in our communities,” said Luis Cabán, chair emeritus of the Latino Endowment Fund Steering Committee. “This document provides us with an opportunity to reframe how we think about our increasingly global community and recognize the advantages of people speaking more than one language to enhance the richness of our community and create stronger links to the global marketplace.”

The number of Hispanic entrepreneurs in the United States has more than tripled since 1990 from 577,000 in 1990 to 2,000,000 in 2012, according to the report. Immigrant-owned businesses employ 10% of all American workers and generate 16% of the overall US business income.  Connecticut is home to 14,000 Latino-owned small businesses, which represents a 50 percent growth rate since 2007.

In Connecticut as of 2013, there were over 191,000 working-age adults with limited English proficiency.  This population has grown 32 percent since 20000 and now represents 10 percent of the total working-age population.  Over 58 percent of these are Spanish-speaking, the report indicated. teacher shortage

Some of the potential solutions highlighted in the report are:

  • Eliminating the state requirement that a district must have a minimum of 20 students requiring ELL support before receiving state funding. All districts that teach students who need ELL support should be eligible for state assistance.
  • Expanding dual-language immersion programs to build a more supportive multilingual environment that can cater to both urban and suburban families.
  • Developing an ESL/adult education curriculum for parents that focus on interactions with their children’s schools and teachers.
  • Providing additional support to create a smooth transition from adult education ESL classes to college-level ESL classes through the development of a coordinated curriculum.household income

“While we appreciate the recent actions by the legislature to support ELL students and their families, this report shows that much work needs to be done to assist the thousands of Connecticut children and adults who are not proficient in English,” said Nelly Rojas Schwan, chair of the Latino Endowment Fund and an assistant professor of social work and Latino community practice at the University of Saint Joseph. “The future of our state’s economy will largely be determined by how well we educate and train our English Language Learners and we hope this report will serve as a tool to aid in this discussion.”

Download a copy of the report.