East Hawaii News

DBEDT Report Analyzes Hawai’i’s Non-English Speaking Population

April 14, 2016, 3:14 PM HST
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Image credit: U.S. Census Bureau, 1980, 1990, and 2000 decennial census, and 2010-2014 ACS five-year estimates.

Image credit: U.S. Census Bureau, 1980, 1990, and 2000 decennial census, and 2010-2014 ACS five-year estimates.

A report analyzing the non-English speaking population in Hawai’i was released by the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism’s Research and Economic Analysis Division on Thursday.

Using information from the United Census Bureau during a four year period spanning from 2010 to 2014, the “Non-English Speaking Population in Hawai’i” report took a look at residents over the age of five who speak a language other than English.

According to DBEDT, the report shows that 17.9 percent of Hawai’i’s population is foreign born with over 130 languages represented.

One in four Hawai’i residents speak a language other than English in their homes, according to the report. This is slightly higher than the country’s overall average of 21 percent.

In addition, 12.4 percent of the state’s population speaks English less than “very well.” The percentage is a lot higher than the U.S. average of 8.6 percent.


Among the top languages spoken at home in Hawai’i outside of English were Ilocano, Tagalog, and Japanese. Speakers of those three languages made up about half of the overall non-English speakers at home throughout the state.


The City and County of Honolulu had the highest percentage of non-English language speakers at home. Hawai’i County had the lowest percentage of non-English speakers at 19 percent, compared to Honolulu’s 28 percent.

German and Hawaiian non-English language speakers at home had the highest English proficiency among non-English speakers at 84 percent and 82 percent, respectively, who spoke English “very well.”

The proportion of fluent English speakers was relatively low among the Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Ilocano speaking population, with less than 40 percent of them speaking English “very well.”


Across the state, the proportion of non-English speakers was low, with better English proficiency in school-aged children between five and 17 years old.

The popular language spoken by the school-age children were also different.  The share of Hawaiian speakers was noticeably bigger in the school-age children group than in the adult group.

In the report, it was noted that the most distinctive characteristic of the non-English speaking population from the English-only speaking population was their origins.  Of the non-English speakers at home, 63 percent in Hawai’i were foreign born.  Compared with the English-only speaking population, the non-English speakers in Hawai’i had a gender structure with a more female population and an age distribution with higher shares of older age groups.  The overall educational attainments of the non-English speakers were lower than that of the English-only speakers.

Economic activities were impacted by English proficiency, as outlined in the DBEDT report. The labor force participation rate of the non-English speakers who could not speak English well was about 15 percentage points lower than the rates for the English-only speakers and the non-English speakers who could speak English well. The rate difference with these groups was bigger by 33 percentage points for the non-English speakers who could not speak English at all.

In addition, English proficiency also played an important role in the selection of occupation. The occupational composition of the non-English speakers who could not speak English well showed a high concentration in two occupation groups: “Food preparation and serving” and “building/grounds cleaning and maintenance,” according to the report.  About one in two non-English speakers worked in one of these two occupations if they could not speak English well.

Earning disparities among various English proficiency groups were also evident. The report shows median earnings of the non-English speakers that was lower than that of the English-only speaking population for all English proficiency levels, and the earnings gap amplified as English proficiency decreased.

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