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The Question Of Language: English, Spanish Or Both?

One of the main data points to look at once the 2010 census results are out is the new distribution of Spanish-only, Bilingual and English only speakers in the Hispanic population.


One of the main data points to look at once the 2010 census results are out is the new distribution of Spanish-only, Bilingual and English only speakers in the Hispanic population.

According to the 2009 edition of the American Community Survey, in 2009 a significant percent (37%) of Hispanics communicated only or mostly in Spanish, a 68% increase from 2000, when they amounted to only 22%.

Another expected 2010 census result is that U.S. born Hispanics will drive the majority of growth. With the growth coming from the non-immigrant population, which traditionally are more familiar with English, what is the reason for such a big increase in the mostly Spanish only proportion?

“Language assimilation is rapid and mostly complete by the third generation. There will be a decrease of immigrants, who are primarily Spanishspeakers. However, native born Hispanics are increasingly learning Spanish for cultural and economic reasons”, says Edward T. Rincon, president at Dallas based research firm Rincon & Associates.

Mebrulin Francisco, Senior Research Analyst at Mediaedge in New York City says that several theories have emerged to explain the increase in the Spanish-dominant population:

Hispanic Pride

According to Francisco, “Reacculturation is more than a buzz word. As an industry we speak a lot about the reemergence of Hispanic pride, now research tells us that this is indeed a macro trend among Latinos in the US. The Futures Company, for example,Tracks trends among Hispanics and found that 68% of Hispanics 18+ agree that Spanish language is more important to them today than it was five years ago. This was true even among segments that had mostly Natives and were raised in an Angloenvironment; bi-cultural (88%) and assimilated (54%).

Major Shift in Sentiment

Francisco explains that MECBravo’s has a proprietary segmentation tool called “The Nuevo Americans.” This model takes a different approach to the Hispanic market focusing on consumer motivations and attitudes rather than demographics or acculturation. “When we first conducted the segmentation in 2006 we found that there was a segment of the Hispanic market that was completely removed from Latin culture.

Ultimately the only thing that made them Hispanic/Latino was their last name. However when the segmentation was updated in 2009, we found a major shift in sentiment among this group and there was a higher affinity towards Hispanic culture, media and involvement”, Francisco explains.

Albert Torres, Chairman and CEO of Tu Decides Media, a bilingual newspaper publisher in the Pacific Northwest notes that the Hispanic community has gone through many different phases regarding the usage of Spanish and English. “There was a time not long ago when it was shameful to speak Spanish and parents were discouraged from teaching their children Spanish. The pendulum swung the other way for a while and it became in vogue to be able to speak a foreign language like Spanish. Currently with the immigration debate the pendulum is now swinging back to the past which I think is very sad for our children”, Torres adds.

Less urgency to be fluent in English

“The truth is that the micro communities or barrios emerging in urban areas create a safety zone for a Spanish only or mostly environment. You can be in this country and not need to be fluent in the native language to get ahead.”, Mediaedge’s Francisco notes.

Implications for Media…

Language preference of Hispanics is determinant for the media vehicles catering to them. Spanish-language media has a very significant impact on the US advertising and media markets overall. In the third quarter of 2010 Univision had the second highest age18-34 ratings of all broadcast networks. In fact, during the first week of September 2010, Univision beat out the Big Four networks among all 18-49 and 18-34 in primetime.

Broadcasters like Univision, Telemundo and V-Me are set to be the main beneficiaries of the expected expansion of Spanish-dominant Hispanics. So are many Hispanic newspapers (although there are exceptions like San Antonio Express News’ Conexion (English) and Chicago’s Extra newspaper (bilingual). Weekly Hispanic newspapers are often the first type of publications to emerge and historically have been more likely to serve immigrant populations. To a large extent they can be seen as Grassroots media and engage the community they target with local content.

Jacqueline Hernández, Chief Operating Officer of the Telemundo Communications Group, Inc, tells Portada that “we are constantly reflecting the U.S. Hispanic market in our content and to do this we turn to data. We are very excited about the Census data as it will provide us with tremendously valuable insights.” Hernández notes that preliminary data shows growth of Hispanic populations across all states. One market in particular is Chicago. ‘We used this insight with our recent launch of 'Alguien Te Mira', which takes place in Chicago. We also expect to see growth in biculturals and U. S. born Hispanics. This is great news for us as we continue to grow mun2- the number one cable network speaking to YLA’s-Young Latino Americans, in a uniquely American voice. It is also the core target. We are looking forward to when the data is released next year so we can continue to use the findings and grow our audiences.”

Other pay TV providers like MTV’s Tr3s and LATV that are geared to bilingual Hispanic youth would also profit from a growing acculturated Hispanic population.

Regarding websites, usage has historically skewed more to English-dominant Hispanics as it has taken a longer time for Spanish-dominant Hispanics to go online. In fact, English-dominant Hispanics do not necessarily visit websites exclusively geared to Hispanics. The 2010 edition of AOL’s annual Hispanic CyberStudy shows that 23% of the US online audience is Spanish-dominant which means they consume most of their media in Spanish; 31% are bicultural consuming most media in English and 46% US dominant consuming most of their media also in English.

Above is a table that breaks down different media properties by the language they use:

…and Marketers

“There is truly not one answer to the question of what determines language choice in targeting Hispanics”, says Rosa Serrano, a former Director of Planning and Buying at Lopez Negrete Communications, who recently created ReSults Media and Marketing Partners, her own advertising agency in Houston.

According to Serrano, “Spanish language tends to be the constant for all clients as this will accomplish two very key goals. First, reach Hispanics who are missed in English language comMunications because of their preference for Spanish language media. There will also be a number of Hispanics who will be exposed to English language messaging but the impact of advertising may not be as effective because the language or cultural cues do not resonate with them as creative developed with Hispanic insights.”

Second, Serrano notes, “the efficiencies of reaching Hispanics using Spanish language channels are still much greater than reaching them with English language media. Your dollar spent in Spanish language to reach Hispanics will allow the client to reach more consumers than the dollar spent in English. This is significant when you consider how many major US markets have Hispanic populations that are 30% or higher compared to the overall population.”

Dual Language Communications

However, Serrano adds “Hispanics are consuming media in multiple languages and any effective plan should include dual language communications. Clients who are commited and savvy about the Hispanic consumer will not stop with Spanish language media investment and call it a day but rather also consider how they are reaching this key consumer via their English language communications.” Serrano cites McDonald's, Bank of America, Walmart, and State Farm among the clients who are doing this.

Sales executives at media properties often face an uphill battle when trying to convince clients and agencies about using Hispanic media (Bilingual or English) to target English-dominant Hispanics. “It is extremely difficult to convince advertisers of the opportunity to target English-dominant Hispanics”, says Albert Torres, Chairman and CEO of Tu Decides Media, a bilingual newspaper publisher in the Pacific Northwest.

Torres adds that “probably the single biggest misconception about Hispanics is that people think we only read, speak and write in Spanish. I love To listen to Spanish music and movies but I prefer to have the ads in English to understand the new technology terms being offered by cell phone companies, types of policies being offered by insurance companies and the type of financial instruments available at the local banks. Beyond entertainment I prefer to see the special offers in English.”

Another factor, Torres emphasizes is the amount of influence that English dominant Hispanics have on the Spanish dominant Hispanics. As an example Torres says that since he was eight years old he has been involved in every purchase his parents did. “Especially large or complicated purchases. In other words you can try to convince my father to buy something only to find that I have a huge amount of influence over his buying decision. I have chosen his doctors, homes, cars, banks, and even employment. I have filled out every employment application for every job he has ever had and I have filled out every form when he owned his own business.”

Juan Guillen, CEO of Defining Trends Media Group a New York City based company that connects with the bilingual & bicultural Hispanic market through digital media, events and LatinTrends Magazine, asserts that “the market for English-language advertising targeting Hispanics should be “huge, but the ratio of allocated ad dollars is not.”

“We are dealing with major numbers here, when 92% of Latinos 18 and under are U.S. born, this is a strong indicator of where the future is heading with regards to U.S. born and raised Latinos. To me, that means opportunity, because it will only increase with time, especially when there are more media properties catering to this market. Think about it, not too long ago there were practically none.”

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