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English Language Learners

Percentage of people in households where no one 14 years or older speaks English only or speaks English very well

I. FACTORS ATTRIBUTABLE TO HEALTH: English Language Learners (Linguistic Isolation)*

In 2011 in California, 25% of children in immigrant families and 2% of children in United States (US)-born families were in households in which no person 14 years or older speaks only English, and no person 14 years or older who speaks a language other than English speaks English “very well.” The adults and children in these linguistically isolated households have both cultural and language barriers to accessing important services such as health care, social services, utilities, financial services, voting, and education—including available and affordable English as a Second or Other Language (ESOL) classes.

Children’s cognitive scores can be considerably affected by living in a household with linguistic isolation, which is largely influenced by the greater likelihood of people living in poverty in these homes. There are numerous benefits to immigrants who can speak the official language of their new country of residence, especially in regards to employment opportunities and economic success. In addition, studies in the United States show that learning English provides non-economic social capital and that there is a connection between language and social power.

The relationship between linguistic isolation and morbidity and mortality outcomes is complex. At the national and local level, immigrants (many of whom do not speak English) tend to have a longer life expectancy and lower burden of chronic disease morbidity. However, living in a community that is linguistically isolated decreases the social and political power of the individuals within that community and limits access to resources to which those individuals are entitled. Across time and generational status, health outcomes may be affected negatively for individuals living in these communities.


Data about linguistically isolated Census tracts are available from the American Community Survey (ACS). For detailed instructions with screen shots on how to download and analyze ACS data and an extended technical discussion of the features and limitations to the ACS, see Appendix A.

For those familiar with ACS data, the map below shows areas in Contra Costa County with a high prevalence of people 14 years or older where no one 14 years or older speaks English only or speaks English very well. These data are five-year estimates from the 2011 ACS table number S1602, mapped using ArcGIS at the Census tract level. We believe maps that assign warmer or more intense colors to Census tracts with more adverse SDOH indicators (i.e., graduated symbols) are among the most convincing and understandable ways to present place-based SDOH data to stakeholders and the general public. Of the many ways to group Census tracts in ArcGIS, we find natural breaks and geometrical interval to be the most useful, as they are both good at showing the range of values and the existence of outliers. ArcGIS software typically creates five classes of graduated symbols by default, which we believe is sufficient. For a detailed discussion on mapping Census data, see Appendix A.

Figure 35: Linguistically Isolated Households, Contra Costa County, 2011


STEP 01. Using the downloaded data, apply the following formula to calculate the standard error for the published proportion.

Sep is the standard error of the percentage of households where no one speaks English at home or “very well” age 14 and higher (HC01_EST_VC01)

MOEp is the margin of error for the proportion of households where no one speaks English at home or “very well” age 14 and higher (HC01_MOE_VC01)

STEP 02. Calculate the coefficient of variation using this formula.

CVp is the coefficient of variation for the percentage.

Sep is the standard error of the proportion of households with linguistic isolation
(calculated in Step 1).

percentLI is the proportion of households with linguistic isolation (where no one speaks English at home or “very well” age 14 and higher (HC01_EST_VC01).

STEP 03. Display and interpret Census tracts with a coefficient of variation (CV) below 30% and display Census tracts with a CV slightly greater than 30% (e.g., 32%) with caution. For Census tracts with a coefficient of variation substantially greater than 30% (e.g., 80%), one of the following is recommended: 1) do not display those Census tracts, 2) clearly indicate those Census tracts on any map or table and include the following language: “Data from these Census tracts are statistically unstable and unreliable, interpret with caution.”


The Public Health Network for Emergencies (PHONE)
Napa County Public Health

PHONE is a network of local community and faith-based organizations that help communicate important health and safety messages to the people they serve during public health emergencies. Napa County Public Health developed PHONE to better deliver public health and safety messages to populations that are harder to reach through mainstream media and other typical communication channels, including those who are English language learners and who come from households in which no one 14 years or older speaks English only or speaks English very well.

Trust plays an important role in how people receive messages during an emergency. People tend to rely on individuals and organizations they already know for information more than outside sources, such as the government or mainstream media. The goal of PHONE is to develop and maintain communication channels that may be used during a public health emergency to quickly deliver messages to protect the health and safety of Napa County residents. The network includes a number of organizations that serve Napa County’s monolingual Spanish-speaking population.

During an emergency, Napa County Public Health activates PHONE by sending an alert with critical public health information to PHONE members by phone, email, or another appropriate channel. Upon receipt of the information, PHONE members are responsible for delivering information to their population group(s) or networks of people who can further deliver the message as a trusted source of information and in a format that is easy for people to understand. For more information, visit http://www.countyofnapa.org/publichealth/phone/.


Annie Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Website. 2014. http://datacenter.kidscount.org/. Accessed January 2014.

Glick JE, Walker L, Luz L. 2013. Linguistic Isolation in the Home and Community: Protection or Risk for Young Children? Social Science Research 42(1):140-154.

Nawyn SJ, Gjoka L, Agbenyiga, DL, Grace B. 2012. Linguisitc Isolation, Social Capital, and Immigrant Belonging. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 41(3):255-282.

Park Y, Neckerman K, Quinn J, Weiss C, Jacobson J, Rundle A. 2011. Neighbourhood Immigrant Acculturation and Diet among Hispanic Female Residents of New York City. Public Health Nutrition 14(9):1593-1600.

U.S. Census Bureau. 2009. A Compass for Understanding and Using the American Community Survey Data, What Researchers Need to Know. Appendix 3. http://www.census.gov/acs/www/Downloads/handbooks/ACSResearch.pdf. Accessed January 2014.