English language use and proficiency of migrants in the UK

Key findings

89%

of foreign born people in the UK reported speaking English well or very well

Half

of foreign born adults in the UK had English as their first language at home

65,000

fewer funded learners participated in ESOL in 2017-18 compared to 2009-10

This briefing examines data on how well migrants in the UK speak English, whether English is their main language at home, and the extent to which they have faced problems in work or education as a result of language barriers.

Key findings

  • A large majority (89%) of the foreign born living in the UK self-reported speaking English well or very well in the 2011 Census
  • In 2018, about half of foreign-born adults had English as their first language at home
  • Use of English increases over time: in 2018, about 68% of the foreign-born population residing in the UK for at least 15 years had English as their first language at home, up from 29% of those who had been in the country for 0-2 years
  • Migrant children adopt English as their first language faster than adults. About 88% of people who moved to the UK before age 5 had English as their first language at home in 2018
  • People whose first language at home is English are more likely to be employed and have higher average earnings
  • ESOL participation in England fell from 179,000 in 2009-10 to 114,000 funded learners in 2017-18
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English language use and proficiency of migrants in the UK

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