Language Use and Proficiency as Measures of Acculturation Among Immigrants to the United States Open Access

Schwenk, Katherine (Spring 2020)

Permanent URL:


Background: In the United States, the sheer growth in migration and the diversity in migrant’s origins, socioeconomic status, and motivations have resulted in host communities becoming more socially, culturally, religiously, and ethnically diverse. Becoming part of a new community or society is an integral and complex part of the migration phenomenon. This interaction of cultures and the resulting changes have become collectively known as acculturation. Language, in particular, is a fundamental factor in the acculturation process. Language is critical for navigating access to health care, housing, education, employment, and other resources. Measures of English proficiency and language use can directly assess acculturation.

Objectives: To assess which languages immigrants use and when, how well they understand English, and how measures of language are associated.

Methods: Princeton University’s New Immigrant Survey (NIS), is a longitudinal, nationally representative survey of 8,573 immigrants to the United States who became legal permanent residents between May and November 2003. The NIS was used to examine the contexts in which languages are spoken, English proficiency, English media use, and associations between language variables. Descriptive statistics, Spearman test for association, and principal component analyses were conducted using sampling weights of the survey’s adult sample.

Results: Non-English languages were strongly favored at home (80.42%, weighted n=5072), with spouses (70.37%, weighted n=4438), and with friends (74.55%, weighted n=4702). Languages spoken at work were more evenly split, with 42.82% (weighted n=2701) using English. Approximately half of respondents (49.09%) said that they understood spoken English either 'well' (26.91%, weighted n=1697) or 'very well' (22.18%, weighted n=1399). There was a strong positive correlation (0.66) between the interviewer’s perception of the respondent’s English and speaking and understanding English.

Conclusions: Those who are proficient in English are more likely to use it in various language speaking contexts and are more likely to use it in public contexts (work and religious services) than personal contexts (home, with friends and with spouses). Those who are proficient in English tend to be younger, educated, and have lived in the United States from an earlier age.

Table of Contents

Introduction Literature Review Migration Acculturation Language and Acculturation Language Acquisition Data and Methodology Survey Design Language Design Variables Methods Results Background Characteristics Contexts of Language Use Self-Ratings of English Proficiency Comparison of Indicators of Language Use Discussion Major Findings Strengths and Limitations Public Health Implications and Recommendations References Tables and Graphs

About this Master's Thesis

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
  • English
Research Field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files