September 19, 2017

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Research Shows Spanish Speakers Take Longer To Learn English. Why?

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Enlarge this image Jenn Liv for NPR

A recent study out of Philadelphia tracked kindergartners who were learning English and found that four years later there were major discrepancies between which groups of students had mastered the language.

Students whose home language was Spanish were considerably less likely to reach proficiency than any other subgroup. And, on the extreme end, Spanish speakers were almost half as likely as Chinese speakers to cross the proficiency threshold.

The study, conducted by the Philadelphia Education Research Consortium, just looked at English learners who entered the district as kindergartners in 2008 and their progress through the end of third grade.

But this phenomenon isn’t specific to Philadelphia. “I have never seen any study that has looked at this question and not found this trend,” says Ilana Umansky, who studies English acquisition at the University of Oregon.

Earlier this year, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine published a 415-page report on English learners. The report cited 12 studies — dating back to 2004 — that found this gap between Spanish-speaking English learners and other groups.

But to date, no research has been able to

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