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No matter what they speak at school, work or play, the overwhelming majority of the nation's 19.6 million Hispanics over the age of 4 speak Spanish at home.(graphic) HISPANICS INDICATE ENDURING PREFERENCE FOR NATIVE LANGUAGE

By Published on .

Spanish-language media should get a boost from 1990 U.S. Census Bureau data confirming what they have been saying all along: Hispanics often prefer to communicate in Spanish even as they become Americanized.

That conclusion is being touted in two recently released studies from DRI/McGraw-Hill, Lexington, Mass., and Strategy Research Corp., Miami.

DRI/McGraw-Hill, in an analysis for the Univision Television Network, noted that though use of Spanish does decline as Hispanics assimilate, the high percentage of Hispanics who speak their native tongue in the home is expected to remain constant through 2010 due to continued high levels of immigration.

The numbers of Hispanics over age 5 who speak Spanish in the home will grow from 15.3 million in 1990 to 21 million in 2000 and 26.7 million by 2010.

Strategy Research used the census numbers and door-to-door interviews nationwide with 4,800 Hispanics to look at acculturation levels, media habits and product use. Seventy-seven percent of the nation's 19.6 million Hispanics age 5 and older speak Spanish sometimes or always at home, 22% speak only English and 1% speak another language, according to 1990 census data (see chart).

The percentages are almost identical to 1980 data showing 75% of the nation's 12.9 million Hispanics spoke Spanish at home, while 23% spoke only English and 2% spoke another language. The language preference has strong implications for Spanish-language media.

"The common belief has been that the process of assimilation, or acculturation, of immigrant groups in the United States would eventually make the need for specific marketing efforts obsolete," said Dick Tobin, president of Strategy Research. "The truth is exactly the opposite. What is driving the explosion of Spanish media in this country is not Spanish dependency but Spanish preference."

Doug Darfield, Univision VP-research director, agreed.

"One of the things we always hear from those skeptical of doing Hispanic marketing is `If we wait long enough, they will speak only English.' But the census data [comparing] 1980 to 1990 show us that's not happening," he said.

Strategy Research also conducted personal interviews analyzing acculturation patterns, language preferences and media use. The company found that of the 17 million Hispanic adults 18 or older (estimated for 1994 by the Census Bureau), 19% are highly acculturated, while 47% are partially acculturated and 34% are relatively unacculturated. The Strategy Research study has a margin of error of 1 to 3 percentage points.

But even among the 3 million highly acculturated Hispanic adults, Spanish was the language of greatest comfort and the language most often spoken at home, Strategy Research found. About 54% were most comfortable speaking Spanish, while 41% preferred English and 6% used both. About 63% of the highly acculturated Hispanics said they speak mostly Spanish at home, while 32% speak English and 6% both.

The averages for all Hispanic adults are: 81% are most comfortable speaking Spanish, while 17% prefer English and 2% use both. Eighty-three percent of all Hispanic adults speak Spanish at home, while 14% speak English and 3% both, Strategy Research said.

This preference for Spanish is also reflected in media choices, Strategy Research said. Hispanics spend on average 9 hours daily with various media. Highly acculturated Hispanics spend about the same time daily with Spanish- and English-language media, at about 4 hours each, while the least acculturated segment spends 2 hours with English media and 7 hours with Spanish media daily.

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