The Economic Benefits of Multilingual Learning

This study aims to fill a gap in the literature that would provide a connection between multilingual programs and the economy. This project will attempt to fill these gaps by comparing linguistically isolated households(households where no person above the age of 14speaks English “very well”) to similar non-linguistically isolated households in California to understand the economic characteristics of both groups and how bilingualism may aid in improving the economic situations of English learners and the California economy over time. By making the economic case for bilingualism and in turn multilingual programs, this analysis can be used alongside previous analyses to advocate for an increased focused on the importance of educational outcomes for not just English proficiency but multilingual learning.

Executive Summary

California is home to nearly a quarter of the nation’s foreign-born population, and multilingual children represent 40% of the state’s public-school enrollment, a number that only continues to grow among the state’s youngest children. Unlike programs that have traditionally pushed students to learn English above all else, programs designed to support students’ home languages in addition to English – also know as multilingual programs – are increasingly gaining support. Here, we find that supporting multilingual learning among California’s youngest children can improve educational outcomes, boost household incomes, and give California companies the edge needed to compete on the world stage.

Key findings include:

■ In California, nearly 60% of children under the age of five have at least one parent who speaks a language other than English.

■ Those same children are 160% more likely to live under the poverty level than peers with English-only speaking parents.

■ Non-English speaking households in California would collectively earn $30 billion more, or $15,519 more per household if they earned as much as their bilingual counterparts.

Once viewed as a deficiency, bilingualism is increasingly treated as an asset in the national job market. From 2010 to 2020, job postings in California requesting applicants with bilingual skills nearly quadrupled, with bilingual postings as a share of total postings increasing nearly 2%, a faster rate than the United States as a whole. The value of investing in multilingual childhood education to increase lifetime earning potential is also clear: as households move up the earning spectrum, median earnings for bilingual households are $100,000 higher than households that do not speak English. This gap represents a rough estimate of a multilingual learner’s earning potential when given the opportunity to reach English fluency, as well as maintain a non-English speaking home language.

California has the unique opportunity to foster early language skills in its 2.4 million multilingual children by implementing more multilingual programs across the state. Critics cite early evidence of multilingual instruction as detrimental to academic success, but there is increasing evidence that these essential programs do not come at the cost of academic performance in other subjects. Multilingual instruction allows students to celebrate their home language while achieving English proficiency, ideally at a young age. This principal benefit is lacking in traditional bilingual programs, which prevents true multilingualism, a skill increasingly in demand across multiple industry sectors and regions.


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