English-Language Learners

What’s the Top Home Language for ELLs?

By Corey Mitchell — June 03, 2015 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Spanish is not the top home language for English-language learner students in some states, though it is the most commonly spoken native language for ELLs nationally, according to separate fact sheets released this week by the Migration Policy Institute and Middlebury Interactive Languages.

But the findings from the two groups diverge on several points.

The brief from the Migration Policy Institute found that five states—Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Montana and Vermont—have a language other than Spanish as the top language spoken by language-learner students. The institute is a Washington-based research group.

The Middlebury Interactive report has a slightly longer list that includes Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Vermont. Middlebury Interactive is a joint venture between Middlebury College and K12 Inc.

Not only do the reports differ on how many states have a top home language learner tongue other than Spanish, in some cases they also hold opposing views on what that language is.

In Montana, the Migration Policy Institute found that German is the top home language. Middlebury Interactive went with American Indian, but it didn’t specify which American Indian language.

In Vermont, Middlebury Interactive found that Bosnian is the top home language while the Migration Policy Institute went with Nepali.

The reports agreed that Somali is the top home language for ELLS in Maine. The same holds true for Ilocano in Hawaii and Yupik in Alaska.

Nationally, both reports agree that slightly more than 70 percent of English-language learner students speak Spanish as their first language

But they disagree on which language is next in line. Middlebury Interactive went with Vietnamese at nearly 3 percent.

The Migration Policy Institute found that nearly 4 percent of ELLs speak Chinese, making it the second-most spoken language in students’ homes.

Here are some other key findings from the reports:

  • Citing the National Center for Education Statistics, Middlebury Interactive found that ELLs make up 10 percent or more of the population in eight states—Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Texas.
  • The Migration Policy Institute found that more than two-thirds of language-learner students spoke Spanish as their home language in 45 states and the District of Columbia. Texas had the highest concentration of students speaking one language, with 90 percent of language-learners there speaking Spanish.

The Migration Policy Institute released another brief detailing states with the highest number of English-language learners, which shows that California, New Mexico, and Nevada had the “largest shares of ELL students in the nation.” The brief found that only two Eastern states, Florida and New York, and the District of Columbia, ranked in the top 15 nationwide in ELL student density.

The brief also listed the top 25 school districts by English-language-learner enrollment with Los Angeles Unified, New York City, and Clark County, Nev., topping the list. Overall, 15 of the top 25 districts listed had an ELL enrollment share of 20 percent of greater.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.