The 2011 Census included questions for the first time on English language proficiency for those who had a main language other than English. For residents who lived in Wales, the English category included those whose main language was Welsh.
The latest analysis from ONS has looked at how proficiency in English varied across the different main languages spoken, how health related to proficiency in English and looked at the proficiency of 3-15 year olds across local authorities in England and Wales.
What was the English language proficiency of the population?
English was the main language for 92 per cent (49.8 million) of usual residents aged three and over in England and Wales in 2011. Of the remaining eight per cent (4.2 million), who had a different main language, the majority (3.3 million) were ‘Proficient’ in English (meaning that they could speak English either ‘well’ or ‘very well’), while 863,000 were ‘Non-proficient’ (meaning that they could not speak English ‘well’ or could not speak English ‘at all’).
What was the English proficiency among the other main languages spoken?
There were 88 main spoken languages other than English classified in the 2011 Census. The largest main language other than English was Polish, which had 546,000 usual residents and 72 per cent who were ‘Proficient’ in English. The second largest was Panjabi with 273,000 usual residents and 68 per cent who were ‘Proficient’ in English.
Excluding sign languages and main languages with a population of less than 300, the top three main languages with the highest proportions of ‘Proficient’ English speakers were Afrikaans, Welsh (for usual residents in England only) and Swedish. Four of the top 10 main languages with the highest proportions of ‘Proficient’ English speakers were native to countries where English was an official language, while the remaining six were Nordic or Germanic and native to countries where English language learning is compulsory at school.
The top five main spoken languages other than English with the lowest proportions of people ‘Proficient’ in English, was: Gypsy/Traveller, Pakistani Pahari (with Mirpuri and Potwari), Vietnamese, Cantonese Chinese and Yiddish. Linguistic distance could be used in part to explain these lower proportions (e.g. Chiswick and Miller, 2005). For instance, the linguistic distance between Asian languages and English is greater than that between English and the Nordic and Germanic languages.
How did health relate to English language proficiency?
The 2011 Census asked questions on general health and English language proficiency, and this release is the first to analyse the answers combined. Around 300,000 of the usual residents aged three and over in England and Wales had ‘Not Good’ health and were ‘Non-proficient’ in English. The respondents who were ‘Non-proficient’ in English had a lower proportion of people reporting ‘Good’ health (65%).
It is possible that some of those in ‘Not Good’ general health may have less opportunity to improve their English speaking skills, due to, for example, being less mobile. 80% of those with English as their main language reported ‘Good’ health, and 88% of those with a main language other than English who were ‘Proficient’ in English had ‘Good’ health.
How did 3-15 year olds rate their English proficiency?
There were 8.5 million 3-15 year olds in England and Wales in 2011. The data showed that 0.4 million (5 per cent) had a language other than English as their main language and were ‘Proficient’ in English, and 78,500 (1 per cent) were ‘Non-proficient’. The five local authorities with the highest proportions of 3-15 year olds ‘Non-proficient’ in English were all in London.
Where to find out more?
These statistics were analysed by the Census Analysis team at the ONS. The 2011 Census data contained in this short story is available via the Nomis website using data tables DC2210EW, DC2302EW and DC2303EW. If you’d like to find out more about the latest census analysis please visit the Census Analysis website. If you have any comments or suggestions, please email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chiswick, B.R. and Miller, P.W. (2005) Linguistic distance: A quantitative measure of the distance between English and other languages. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 26(1), 1-16.