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English in Puerto Rico

English has been spoken in Puerto Rico for more than a century. If Puerto Rico becomes a state, it will not have the largest number of speakers of Spanish among the States. However, it will probably have the highest proportion of Spanish speakers.

In the recent hearings on Puerto Rico status, Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) brought up “the language question.”  “Language in the United States is English. Period,” he said. “A common language is absolutely essential in a democracy that is based on resolving our differences in open debate. Open debate is impossible in a polyglot society.76% of Puerto Ricans, according to one recent poll, find it unacceptable that English might become their official language.”

What are the facts on English in Puerto Rico?

It’s official

In 1902, English and Spanish were declared the official languages of Puerto Rico. In 1917, Spanish was required as the medium of instruction in schools up to Grade 8, while English was used in secondary schools. By 1942, Spanish was the medium of instruction in grades 1 and 2, with a gradual shift during grades 3 to 8 so that English was a subject of study in third grade and Spanish was a subject of study in 9th grade.

In 1949 Spanish was established as the medium of study in Puerto Rico’s schools, with English as a mandatory subject.

Much of this change was fueled by the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (AMPR or Teachers Association), founded in 1912. They agitated for Spanish language instruction. The controversy over the use of Spanish and English in schools in Puerto Rico mirrored the controversies in communities in Texas and New Mexico. Now, Spanish is used for teaching, and English is taught in every grade.

English was removed from the position of official language in 1991, but became the second official language again in 1993.

A Page from History: The Language Question


Do Puerto Ricans speak English?

The most recent data on this question is from the U.S. Census bureau in 2017, which concluded that about half of residents of Puerto Rico speak English, but only 5% speak it at home. Estimates of fluency have hovered at 20% since 2010, but observers generally agree that younger residents usually speak English.

This map shows estimates of fluency in different municipalities in Puerto Rico.

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