In this paper we analyse data on language ability collected in a new nationally representative household survey, the National Income Dynamics Study, which captures information on reading and writing ability, both in the individual’s home language and in English. We find that self-assessed reading and writing ability are highly correlated in the data, and that individuals typically report considerably higher ability in their home language than in English. The data suggest large racial differences in language skills, in the individual’s home language and particularly in English. Racial differences however are narrower among younger adults (aged 15 to 30 years) than among older adults. Furthermore, whereas older women are less likely than older men to report being able to read and write very well, in both their home language and in English, this is reversed among younger women and men. Finally we show that individuals who report good reading and writing ability in their home language and far more likely to report good reading and writing ability in English.