FACT CHECK: Do 1 In 5 People In The US Speak Spanish?

Emily Larsen | Fact Check Reporter

UPDATE: The AP issued the following clarification in response to this fact check: “In a story Feb. 10, The Associated Press reported that nearly 1 in 5 people in the United States speaks Spanish. The story should have explained that 40 million Americans speak Spanish at home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Instituto Cervantes, which gathered the data on which the 1 in 5 statistic was based, also counts another 23 million potential speakers, such as Latinos who don’t speak Spanish at home and students of Spanish in elementary school, high school and college.”

An Associated Press article published Saturday said that “nearly 1 in 5 people in the United States speaks Spanish.”

Verdict: False

About 13 percent of U.S. residents above the age of five speak Spanish at home, according to the Census Bureau.

Fact Check:

AP noted the number of Spanish speakers in an opinion piece about the absence of Spanish language content on the White House website. “A year into the Trump administration, the White House website still has no Spanish-language content, unlike during the two previous administrations and even though nearly 1 in 5 people in the United States speaks Spanish,” it said.

The White House website had full Spanish versions under President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush, but the Trump administration only manages a Spanish Twitter account.

The piece claimed that nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population speaks Spanish. But the Census’ 2016 American Community Survey (ACS), an annual survey of 3.5 million homes used to estimate population and demographics between census years, estimated that 39 million of the 299 million people in the U.S. above the age of five speak Spanish at home. That puts the number of Spanish speakers at 13 percent, a little less than 1 in 7.

The ACS says that 63 million people, about 1 in 5, speak a language other than English at home, but 24 million of those residents speak languages other than Spanish.

The AP article did not cite a source for the 1 in 5 statistic. Luis Alonso Lugo, the author of the article, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that the claim is based on the latest annual report from Instituto Cervantes, a nonprofit run by the Spanish government that promotes the use of Spanish around the world.

The international organization’s 2017 report on Spanish speaking globally said that there are 43 million native Spanish speakers in the U.S. and an additional 15 million with a range of proficiency. Together, that amounts to about 18 percent of the U.S. population, nearly 1 in 5 people.

But the combined figure includes millions of people who don’t use Spanish in day-to-day life and would be able to navigate a White House website lacking Spanish content. Francisco Fernández, executive director at the Instituto Cervantes at Harvard University, told TheDCNF that the limited proficiency category of 15 million people counts high school and university students taking Spanish classes. It also assumes all Hispanic people who didn’t report speaking Spanish at home have some knowledge of Spanish.

A separate 2016 report on Hispanic people in the U.S. from the organization’s Harvard center claimed that over 50 million people in the U.S. speak Spanish at home. But that report counted illegal immigrants twice. Using a method from a 2015 textbook, the report added an additional 11 million to the census figure on the number of Spanish speakers in order to account for illegal immigrants.

Experts at both the Pew Research Center and the Center for Migration Studies told TheDCNF that the ACS estimates already include almost all illegal immigrants. Moreover, nearly a quarter of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. are not Hispanic. Fernández said that future editions of the report will not say the ACS estimate doesn’t include illegal immigrants.

Pew and ACS estimates say that nearly three-quarters of Hispanic people in the U.S. speak Spanish, though the self-reported surveys don’t measure fluency. A few million additional people who speak Spanish at home are not Hispanic.

A majority of people who speak Spanish at home are bilingual, speak English and could navigate a White House website lacking Spanish content. Only about five percent of people in the U.S. who speak Spanish at home also say they speak English less than “very well.”

While the Trump administration has not added Spanish content to the White House website, many other federal government websites have Spanish versions, such as DisasterAssistance.govUSA.govBenefits.gov and GovLoans.gov.

The Trump administration said in July that it planned to add Spanish content by the end of 2017, but declined to tell the AP if it still plans to add Spanish content. The White House did not respond to a request for comment from TheDCNF.

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Emily Larsen

Fact Check Reporter