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Bilingual Education Column

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A growing percentage of U.S. residents speak a language other than English at home, according to data from the 1990 U.S. Census.

Data released by the Bureau of the Census this month from 11 states and their large cities also indicate marked increases in the number of foreign-born people living in the United States.

More than half of those in each state who reported that they spoke a language other than English at home also said they spoke English "very well.''

The finding prompted experts to caution that the need for bilingual-education services may not be as great as it would first appear.

Nevertheless, the change in the ethnic and linguistic makeup of many states and cities has been dramatic, according to the most detailed data to be released from the 1990 Census so far.

In New York City, for example, 41 percent of residents ages 5 and over said they spoke a language other than English at home in 1990, compared with 35 percent in 1980.

In New York State, about 23 percent of residents ages 5 and over spoke a language other than English at home, and more than 45 percent of them said they did not speak English "very well.''

In Miami, nearly three-quarters of its residents ages 5 and over speak a language other than English, and 67 percent of them said they did not speak English "very well.''

Among the states, New Mexico, with 35 percent, had the largest percentage of residents ages 5 and over who speak another language at home.

Only 5 percent of Montana residents 5 and over spoke another language at home. Among the other states, the statistics were Vermont, 6 percent; Maine and New Hampshire, 9 percent; Connecticut and Massachusetts, 15 percent; Rhode Island and Florida, 17 percent, and New Jersey, 20 percent.

The Census Bureau expects to release national figures, as well as separate statistics for each state, later this year.

A separate 1989 Census Bureau study put the increase in people speaking a language other than English at home at 40 percent since 1980. Other studies have put the number of foreign-born U.S. residents at an all-time high of about 20 million, compared with about 14 million in 1980.

In New York City, meanwhile, annual statistics issued this month by the board of education show that 120,000 immigrant students from 167 countries have enrolled in city schools during the past three years and that this year's influx of more than 43,000 students was the highest of the past three years.

Roughly two-thirds of New York's immigrant students came from 11 countries. The most, 23,000, came from the Dominican Republic, while 10,000 came from Jamaica, 8,000 from Russia, and 7,000 each from Guyana and China.--P.S.

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