Learning English is a much bigger hurdle for immigrants than earlier believed, with most Hispanics being functional illiterates, even those who have been in the United States for over a decade.

A new analysis of immigrants found that 63 percent of Hispanics have a "below basic" understanding of English, making them illiterate.

And it doesn't get better if they stay in the U.S. for 15 years. In a shocking finding showing that they haven't tried to learn -- or even had to -- more, 67 percent, of Hispanics don't have English proficiency even after 15 years in America.

The Center for Immigration Studies found that overall immigrants of all nationalities have difficulty with English. Some 41 percent score at or below the lowest level of English literacy.

The children of Hispanics don't score much better, said CIS. "The children of Hispanic immigrants score at the 34th percentile, and 22 percent are below basic. In addition, just 5 percent of second-generation Hispanics have 'elite' literacy skills, compared to 14 percent of natives overall," said the report.

The study, done by Jason Richwine, a PhD and independent public policy analyst and author, said, "The importance of English literacy cannot be overstated. Without language proficiency, immigrant families will find it difficult to succeed in the mainstream of American society, and high rates of English illiteracy may be a sign of poor immigrant assimilation. Policymakers should take note."

Typically, researchers use Census data where immigrants grade themselves. For his report, Richwine used a direct test of English literacy administered by the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).

The highlights:

  • 41 percent of immigrants score at or below the lowest level of English literacy — a level variously described as "below basic" or "functional illiteracy."
  • The average immigrant scores at the 21st percentile of the native score distribution.
  • Hispanic immigrants struggle the most with English literacy. Their average score falls at the 8th percentile, and 63 percent are below basic.
  • 67 percent of Hispanic immigrants in the U.S. more than 15 years score "below basic."
  • For Hispanic immigrants, self-reported English-speaking ability overstates actual literacy. The average literacy score of Hispanic immigrants who self-report that they speak English "very well" or "well" falls at the 18th percentile, and 44 percent are below basic.
  • Even long-time residents struggle with English literacy. Immigrants who first arrived in the United States more than 15 years ago score at the 20th percentile, and 43 percent are below basic.
  • Literacy difficulties brought by low-skill immigrants persist beyond the immigrant generation. The children of Hispanic immigrants score at the 34th percentile, and 22 percent are below basic. In addition, just 5 percent of second generation Hispanics have "elite" literacy skills, compared to 14 percent of natives overall.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com