English Proficiency in the US

“Everyone that lives in the US should learn English or get kicked out!”

Have you ever heard someone say that, or have you maybe even said it yourself? There are many people that are residing in the US that self-report not speaking English well.

9% of the population in fact. 

The Migration Policy Institute just released a new study that determined that 9% of the population of the US is not proficient in English. It was at 6% in 1990.

9% of the US population is about 25.3 million people, which puts it into perspective a bit more.

63% of these LEP (limited English proficient) are Latino, and 20% are Asian. 13% are non-Latino white, and 3% are black.

About half of these LEPs live in California, Texas, and New York, which have always had large numbers of immigrants. In fact, 1 in 5 people in California have limited proficiency in English, which puts California at having 27% of the LEP population. And, of course, larger cities have larger populations of non-proficient speakers. Cities such as DC, Miami, and Chicago have large populations of LEPs.

Limited English Proficient Population

limited English proficiency states

While many LEPs are foreign born, about 19% were actually born in the US.  That leaves 81% that are foreign born.

Separately, there are an additional 2.8 million LEPs in Puerto Rico, which is part of the US.  (When I visited Puerto Rico, I was surprised that hardly anyone spoke English fluently since I had read that both English and Spanish are the official languages there.)

Does not being able to speak English while living in America hurt LEPs? This study does show that they are more likely to be living in poverty or be doing menial jobs. Many LEPs work in construction, transportation, or the service industry. They are less likely to hold college degrees. Is it difficult to live their day-to-day lives? I am sure it is. Many LEPs have children that are proficient in English from going to school, and their children must help them do simple tasks, like pay bills. It is taxing on the parents and the children.

However, not everyone has the time or the opportunity to learn English. If you’re working 60 hours a week, it’s very difficult to squeeze in time to learn English. Additionally, many people don’t know how to go about learning. Some don’t realize there are many free classes to help them learn English. And another major reason is that learning English can be intimidating. It’s hard to admit that you don’t know the language, and then go to a class and feel like a toddler while learning the basics. (I can relate to that while living in China and trying to learn Chinese!)

This study goes to show that there is a definite need for qualified ESL teachers. There is also a need for volunteers to teach English. There are so many organizations with which one can volunteer to do this. They will give you basic training, but the teaching will be simple, and any native English speaker would be able to do this easily. One example is Pro-Literacy America.

So instead of getting angry when people can’t speak English,  think about what you can do to help. Also, be considerate of their circumstances. It may very well be their first day in the US, or they may be taking classes but their ability level is still not very good yet.  Put yourself in their shoes, and be considerate of their feelings and situation.

I hate when people say that everyone in the US should know English, “because English is the official language goshdarnit!”  If you’d do your research you’d know that the US does not actually have an official language. So, chew on that little tidbit for a while.

I hope this post was informative. I got my information (and the images) from this website. So check it out if you’d like to read more if you’re a language/English/teaching nerd like me.   :]  And please help me out and  share on your social media (Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc.) if you enjoyed this post.

College Culture Night

After many hours of prep work, I pulled off my university’s culture night. And oh boy, it was more work than I ever imagined! I asked the participants, I helped them think of an idea for a performance, I wrote bios for each performer, I wrote the script for the emcee, I arranged the facility, and I advertised. Shew! I’m tired all over again from just typing that!

I desperately wanted to give our international students a chance to showcase their culture and their talents, and I wanted to give our American students a chance to learn about their classmates. We had students from Japan, Guatemala, the Philipines, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, and America  perform. They all did an excellent job, and I do believe that all involved had a great time. I hope to make this event a yearly thing!

Japanese culture

Masa and Shin doing kendo fighting

Filipino student

Mara singing in Tagalog, a dialect of the Philipines

Japanese student

Hikari bowing in her kimono after her piano performance

Japanese kimono

Masa writing Japanese calligraphy

Puerto Rican student

Orgen rapping in Spanish

traditional Chinese dress

Minmin introducing a video about dating in Taiwan

Puerto Rican musician

Orgen, from Puerto Rico, playing the bongos

culture night

Culture Night Participants (I’m 2nd from the left in the front row)

Thanks to our school photographer, Derek, for the great photos.


Have you noticed that certain objects can hold memories for you? That certain smells can transport you through time and space? That music will take you to a different place completely?

For example, in March when I went to China, I took a certain moisturizer. Now, whenever I use it, I think of being in snowy Harbin in northern China, piling on layer after layer of clothing to keep out the numbing cold and never quite succeeding.

The new shoes I bought to take to Japan with me this summer make me think of all the walking I did in Tokyo. While those shoes bring to mind the fabulous places I’ve been, they also remind me of the blisters I suffered because of my treks. :]

And speaking of clothing, an item that I can hardly bring myself to wear is the skirt I wore on my recent 14 hour flight back from Korea. The second that skirt touches my skin, I get a feeling of impatience and anxiousness over the long flight all over again. My brain is also tricked into thinking I won’t be able to change out of that skirt for over 24 hours.

Smells are what really hold memories for me. Smells can transport me back to a place in an instant. For example, I took a certain perfume with me to Puerto Rico to wear as I made my way from city to city on that island. I recently bought a new bottle of that perfume so that every morning when I put it on, I feel like I’m heading out into the tropical sunshine of that Caribbean island to go exploring.

If I smell sesame oil, I feel like I’m taking my lunch break from teaching in China and eating dumplings at my favorite little food stall on campus.

Hearing a certain song can remind me exactly where I was when I heard the song for the first time. It might have been with my best friends in junior high swimming in the back yard, or it might have been in a church building in Mexico.

It’s strange how our brains use objects and smells to remind us of our past, but I’m glad it does. I can travel in my mind over and over again just by eating a certain food or even hearing a particular song. Next time you take a trip, take a new album and make it your anthem. Take a new perfume, so that when you return, your nose will always be able to take you back. Eat foods there and then find then here. Your heart will thank you later.

What song, smell, or object transports you to a different place or time?

Getting to Know the 51st State

While chatting with one of my friends on Skype, I suggested we take a trip.

Friend- Uh, like to where?

Me- Someplace crazy and exciting!

Friend- Cedar Point?

Me- Hmm…I’m thinking Puerto Rico.

Friend- (Pause…..) Ok!

Yes! That was the most sporadic trip planning I had ever done. And the best part….someone fell for it! The next Skype date was spent booking tickets to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Most of my traveling has been done in Asia, so I was excited to have an adventure in a place with a Latino culture.

As Americans, we tend to be blissfully ignorant about Puerto Rico. I knew it was a commonwealth of the US, but what does that even mean? Well, they answer to the US government. However, they can’t do things like voting for the president. They have their own democratically elected governor, much like any other state. Yet, they aren’t considered a state. They are United States citizens.  They are represented in congress, but their delegate can not vote. Some islanders themselves think Puerto Rico should be a state. However, some like it the way it is. And then there are some that want full independence. Apparently there is a cask of rum that was set aside in 1942 with orders to be opened when (or if) Puerto Rico becomes an independent nation.

I like the way the travel guide “Lonely Planet Puerto Rico” (my favorite set of travel guides!) describes Puerto Rico: “an island the size of Connecticut with the diversity of a small continent.” I was surprised to see that Puerto Rico has it all- beaches, mountains, rain forests, and many other types of terrain. Hints of Spain (from colonization), pieces of America (from current jurisdiction), the Caribbean  (the location), and native Taino (the people original to the island)can be seen in the architecture, the language, and the food. What a wonderful mesh of culture!

Interesting facts:

-Had an asylum policy in 1700 and 1800’s to give freedom to fugitive slaves.

-Because of its connection to the US, Puerto Rico is one of the most well-off islands in the Caribbean.

-Plantains are so in demand that they must be imported from the Dominican Republic.

– The headquarters for Barcardi Rum is located on the island

– San Juan is the 2nd oldest European settlement in the Americas

I’m going to do a few more posts with some interesting places to visit in Puerto Rico along with some photos I took there. Until then, enjoy these photos!