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Linguistic Isolation

Variable Definitions:
Limited English Speaking Households: The percentage of households in which no one over the age of 14 speaks only English at home or speaks English “very well” as a second language

American Community Survey, 5-Year Estimates 

2006-10 ~ 2011-15: Table B16002 

2012-16 & 2013-17: Table C16002

Years Available:

2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019

*Note: Each year of available data shown above is a 5-year estimate, or an average of data collected over a five year period. 5-year estimates are used to increase the reliability of the data at small geographies like neighborhoods and census tracts. The years shown on the NDSC map represent the final year of the five year average (e.g. “2010” represents 2006-2010 data, “2011” represents 2007-2011 data, and so on). For the most impactful comparison of data over time, the ACS recommends comparing non-overlapping years (e.g. 2010-14 with 2015-19).

Why are these variables important to measure?

Limited English Speaking Households
Linguistic isolation is measured by the percentage of households in which no one over the age of 14 speaks only English at home or English “very well” as a second language. Californians speak over 40 languages besides English at home, with Spanish as the most common. Households with no English speakers often face barriers to resource access as they may have trouble communicating with social service and health care providers. Children in linguistically isolated households often underperform in math and reading when compared to their native-English speaking peers.

Neighborhoods with high rates of linguistic isolation often communicate and function fully without use of the English language, providing children with few opportunities to practice and learn English. However, some research suggests that children surrounded by other linguistically isolated families have the opportunity to learn and practice with other novice speakers and serve as translators for their families. Despite mixed research, linguistically isolated areas are associated with higher rates of poverty and underperforming schools, potentially leading to continued economic and social isolation.

When measured alongside other datasets such as poverty and student proficiency, high rates of linguistic isolation can be an indication of a need for investment in both child and adult education resources to help socially and economically integrate non-English speaking households and communities.

American Community Survey. 2017 Subject Definitions. Link

Han, Wen-Jui. “Bilingualism and Academic Achievement.” Child Development, November 2018. Link.

Hill, Laura. “English Proficiency of Immigrants.” Public Policy Institute of California: Just the Facts, March 2011. Link.

“Linguistic Isolation.” Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment & California Environmental Protection Agency, 2018. Link.

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