Virtually every immigrant group arriving in the United States has adopted English and forgotten its native tongue. Will the pattern hold for the U.S. Hispanic population? Research shows that it will, although continued immigration and Spanish-language media could slow the process. The findings hold significant implications for corporate marketers and their strategies.
View the Hispanic Business Meta-Language Study results. A national survey by The Latino Coalition, a Washington, D.C.–based public policy organization, presents a clear picture of the current Hispanic market. "In the United States, there are two Hispanic communities: one is the Spanish-language community, and the other is the English-speaking community," says Roberto de Posada, president of The Latino Coalition. "They have very different views. For instance, on the barrier [in society] issue, for Spanish-speakers, the biggest barrier is language. Among English-speaking Hispanics, it is education. Language ranks very low as a barrier among English-speakers." Mr. de Posada says the Spanish-speakers tend to be more recent immigrants. In contrast, the English-dominants are usually second- and third-generation Hispanics. According to Census data, just over 40 percent of U.S. Hispanics are immigrants (see chart). "In the stereotypical case of immigrant populations in America, the second generation is bilingual, but the third, generally, is not. By the third generation, increased cultural assimilation means the displacement of the minority language," affirm Barbara Zurer Pearson and Arlene McGee in their academic study Language Choice in Hispanic-Background Junior High School Students in Miami: A 1998 Update. In a New York Times editorial titled "The Overwhelming Allure of English," Gregory Rodriguez, senior fellow at the New America Foundation, explains that the proportion of foreign-born among the Hispanic population reached its peak during the 1990s. In the future, the immigrant component will constitute a smaller percentage of the Hispanic market. "As American Latinos become less an immigrant market and more an ethnic market," Mr. Rodriguez states, "the equation of Latinos with Spanish is beginning to fade." Voice your opinion -- take the Hispanic Business Language Report Survey. From a marketing perspective, the English-dominant Hispanics tend to have higher purchasing power as well as increased consumption habits and voter participation rates (see "The Hispanic Middle Class Comes of Age," December 2001). "Anyone who looks at the Hispanic market as a whole will need two strategies, one based on Spanish and one on English," Mr. Rodriguez says. "There’s not one campaign that can reach both." Nevertheless, most of the Hispanic advertising in the U.S. media market hinges on Spanish-language usage as the touchstone of Hispanic identity. In her book "Latinos Inc.: The Marketing and Making of a People" ($22.50, University of California Press), Arlene Davila explains the language’s strategic importance. "Convinced that Latinos who are English-dominant or bilingual are already being reached through mainstream media, corporations almost always approach Hispanic marketing agencies having already decided to limit their marketing efforts to Latino consumers who are Spanish-speaking. Faced with these pressures, all advertising presentations include a statement explaining that Spanish is the preferred language for all Hispanics, some being more emphatic about Hispanics’ use of or proficiency in this language, but all stressing that Hispanics speak Spanish and that they will continue to do so, and that the best way of reaching and connecting with them is through ‘their language,’" Ms. Davila writes. (Ms. Davila uses the term "Hispanic media" as synonymous with "Spanish-language media," when in fact English-language media clearly utilize the term "Hispanic" as well.)
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