Spanish-speaking services


Last week, the U.S. Census released figures showing that due to the massive migration of Hispanic families into this country, in many places the majority of children under 5 years old are combinations of Asian, Black, Native American, and – especially – Latino. This change in population is particularly noticeable in the South and West, and in states in which Latino migration is highest. The story in the Washington Post explains it this way:

As with minorities in general, immigrants tend to be younger than non-Hispanic whites and still in their childbearing years. As a result, in five suburban Washington counties, more than half of children age 4 and younger were minorities when the annual Census Bureau survey was taken a year ago.

Demographers have long predicted this change; it’s the breaking wave of what the U.S. population in general will become by the middle of the 21st century, when no single ethnic/cultural group of Americans will make up more than 50 percent of the American people.

The biggest reason, however, to be paying attention to this shift in the numbers of children under 5 is that with huge amounts of children entering school, many of whom do not speak English well, educators are concerned about the levels of literacy these children will achieve in American schools:

… although most Hispanic children younger than 5 are native-born U.S. citizens and therefore eligible for government health care and other benefits, research indicates that if their parents are not U.S. citizens, they will be less likely to claim assistance, said Michael Fix, director of studies at the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute.

“All of this really reinforces the importance for counties to increase their investment in early childhood development now,” Fix said.”If you don’t make that investment, one of the penalties you pay down the line is that you have kids in school who don’t speak English well and whose overall performance lags behind.”

Fix pointed to studies indicating that as many as 75 percent of elementary school children learning English as a second language were born in the United States.

“Even more worrisome is that over half of the English-as-a-second-language learners in high school were native born,” Fix added.

It’s pretty clear that the new generation of librarians in both public and school libraries should be learning at least the basics of Spanish, as well as learning how to work with ESL kids. Helping these children become literate will become a major challenge as their numbers grow over the next 15 to 20 years.

Update: Here’s a story on CNN.com that explains the population changes we can expect by the year 2050 in more detail.

Web Junction logoBack in the early days of this blog I mentioned the site for the Spanish Language Outreach Program (a program that wisely – chuckle chuckle – does not use its acronym) on Web Junction’s site. I’m mentioning it again not to chuckle (sorry), but because there’s a good discussion going on on one of the site’s discussion groups called “Spanish Picture Books for Storytime” that should be of interest to anyone with a sizable number of Spanish-speaking families with young children among the folks they serve.

If you poke through these messages, you’ll see that several people presenting Spanish picture books in their storytimes are finding them often too wordy for their young audiences, and they’re looking for some briefer, punchier titles. If you have questions about storytimes in Spanish, or with some Spanish mixed in, think about joining the group.

Plus, why not put serendipity to work and do some strolling around the site? There are descriptions of several programs, such as family storytimes, that may be perfect for your community.