Numbers. The population of adults learning English has become a significant part of adult education programs. More than 35 million adults in the United States are native speakers of a language other than English (U. S. Census Bureau, 2001). In program year 2002-2003, 43% of participants in state-administered adult education programs were enrolled in ESL classes (U.S Department of Education, 2004). This does not include those served within other segments of the educational system-in adult basic education (ABE) and adult secondary education (ASE) classes, private language schools and academic institutions, as well as volunteer literacy services and other community-based programs.
Locations of residence. In 2000, 68 percent of the nation's foreign-born population lived in California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Texas (Capps, Fix, & Passel, 2002). At the same time, states that have not previously had significant numbers of immigrants have witnessed a rapid growth of their immigrant populations. Between 1990 and 2000, the immigrant population in 22 states grew twice as fast as it did in the six states mentioned above. The following states experienced more than 125% growth: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah (Capps, et al., 2002).
Countries of origin. The foreign-born population comes from all over the world, but most people come from Latin America or Mexico. In 2000, more than one-quarter of the foreign-born population came from Mexico, and over half from Latin America generally (primarily Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and El Salvador). Of the remaining immigrants from Latin America, 2.8 million were born in Caribbean countries, and 1.9 million in South America (Capps, Passel, Perez-Lopez, & Fix, 2004; U.S. Census Bureau, 2002). The next largest group of people came from Asia.
First language background. The majority of individuals who speak a language other than English at home speak Spanish (60%). The second most prevalent language is Chinese. The remaining eight of the top 10 languages spoken are (in descending order) French, German, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Italian, Korean, and Polish (U.S. Census Bureau, 2003).
Educational background. Adult English learners have a variety of educational backgrounds, ranging from no education at all to advanced degrees.
English speaking ability. The English speaking ability of adults learning English ranges from low beginning, with limited opportunities to use English outside of class, to high advanced (near native proficiency). Of the English language learners enrolled in state-administered adult education programs in program year 2001-2002, over half were enrolled in beginning literacy or beginning ESL classes (U.S. Department of Education, 2003).
English literacy. The increase in English language learners has been accompanied by an increase in adults with limited literacy in English. The National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) found that over half of the population studied had low English literacy skills and that a higher percentage of non-native English speakers than native English speakers read English at the lowest levels (Kirsch, Jungeblut, Jenkins, & Kolstad, 1993).
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