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Report: Rising share of Hispanics speak proficient English

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — A rising share of Hispanics in the United States speak proficient English and the percentage of those speaking Spanish at home has been declining, researchers said Tuesday.

A report by the Washington-based Pew Research Center found 68 percent of Hispanics spoke only English at home or spoke English very well in 2013, up from 59 percent in 2000. The share of Hispanics speaking Spanish at home dropped to 73 percent from 78 percent over the same period.

The shift comes as migration to the United States from Latin America has slowed.

"This is part of a broader trend, which is the U.S.-born driving many of the characteristics of the community, and it is only going to become more amplified," said Mark Hugo Lopez, Pew's director of Hispanic research.

Even so, the number of Hispanics who speak Spanish at home reached a record 35.8 million because of overall growth in the Hispanic population. The report found the number of Hispanics who speak proficient English also hit a record 33.2 million.

The Hispanic population in the United States surged 53 percent to 54 million from 2000 to 2013, driven largely by growth among U.S.-born Hispanics, not immigrants, according to Pew. That's compared with 12 percent growth in the total population.

About half of U.S.-born Hispanics speak Spanish, and about half of their children retain the language, Lopez said. The recent rise of English-language media geared toward Hispanics is responding to this trend, he said.

The language report, which was based on an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data for Hispanics age 5 and older, found 89 percent of U.S.-born Latinos spoke proficient English in 2013, up from 81 percent in 2000. For Hispanic immigrants, English proficiency was greater among those with higher levels of education, the report showed.

In Southern California, Rene Amel Peralta, 28, said he's increasingly used English as he pursues his college degree in chemistry. He said he had all but stopped using Spanish — the only language he knew until he came to the U.S. from Mexico at age 13 — but has started speaking it again more recently to reconnect with his culture.

"Since I am getting a university education, my English language is becoming more academic, something I don't have at all in Spanish," he said. "In Spanish, I have the very basics. It is basically street Spanish."

Mauro Mujica, chairman of the group U.S. English, welcomed the news but questioned how quickly immigrants living in heavily Spanish-speaking neighborhoods in California and Florida are mastering English compared with those who settle elsewhere.

Mujica, whose organization wants English declared the country's official language, said he believes newcomers would learn English even sooner if the U.S. government did more to help them assimilate.

"I have never met an immigrant, or a mother of an immigrant, who doesn't want their kids to speak English," he said.

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