Almost Half of Nepali Population in U.S. Struggles with English Proficiency

Almost half of the Nepali population in the United States faces challenges communicating in English, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. The data, based on the 2017-2019 American Community Survey (IPUMS), reveals that only 51% of Nepalese residents ages 5 and older are proficient in English. This means nearly half (49%) struggle with English proficiency in their homes.

The study also highlights a significant gap between U.S.-born Nepalese and those who immigrated. While 85% of U.S.-born Nepalese report speaking English proficiently, the rate drops to just 48% for foreign-born Nepalese. This disparity suggests that many Nepali immigrants face a language barrier upon arrival in the United States. The proficiency rate dips even lower for adults specifically, falling to only 47%.

These findings offer valuable insights into the language needs of the growing Nepali American community. English proficiency is crucial for integration into American society. It impacts access to education, employment opportunities, and overall well-being. Understanding these language proficiency rates can inform policies and programs that support English language acquisition for Nepali immigrants.

Beyond Language Acquisition: The Need for Linguistic Justice

However, the challenge goes beyond simply learning English. Linguistic justice, which ensures equal access to information and services regardless of language spoken, is a critical issue for Nepali communities. Here’s why:

  • Limited Nepali Resources: Federal and local government resources are not widely available in Nepali. This creates a struggle for Nepali immigrants to understand their rights and access essential services.
  • Inaccessible Translations: Even when Nepali translations exist, they are often complex and difficult to understand. This gap between literal translation and clear communication creates confusion and hinders access to information.
  • Challenges with English Language Classes: While language classes are available for immigrants, many struggle because they are conducted entirely in English. Instructors fluent in both English and Nepali would be more effective in supporting language acquisition. Ideally, English language instruction should incorporate Nepali whenever possible.
  • Barriers to Opportunities: Due to language barriers, many opportunities, rights, and facilities provided by the local government remain unknown to Nepali communities. Examples include limited translation for driver’s license exams, lack of Nepali hotlines, and English-only training programs for crucial jobs like nail technicians or sanitation workers.
  • Limited Nepali Language Resources in Libraries: Even in areas with large Nepali populations, local libraries often lack books and resources in Nepali. Additionally, there’s a shortage of Nepali speakers available to assist patrons. This lack of access to Nepali language resources further isolates community members.

These issues are interconnected. Even those who understand some English may struggle to navigate the complexities of accessing government resources and programs. Public awareness campaigns conducted in Nepali are essential to bridge this knowledge gap and empower the Nepali community.

Addressing the language needs of the Nepali community requires a multi-pronged approach. While English language acquisition is important, ensuring access to information and services in Nepali is equally crucial. Linguistic justice is essential for full integration and participation in American society.