Immigrants learn English sometimes as 3rd language
Oct. 9, 2005
ALBANY, N.Y. - When Afghan immigrant Miram Aioby arrived in America in the
early 1980s, he landed in Miami Beach, where people thought he was Cuban and
insisted he speak Spanish.
So, as he roamed the city stocking its vending machines, he learned Spanish
and English. "I had to learn both to survive," said Aioby, 47, who now runs
an Albany grocery that caters to a mix of South Asians and Bosnians.
As new immigrants arrive in diverse neighborhoods, the language they embrace
isn't always English. Honduran cooks learn Mandarin. Mexican clerks learn
Korean. Most learn Spanish.
Language experts say it is a phenomenon that has gone largely unstudied.
There are no tidy reports or statistics at hand, but they say the trend
could finally help make America a multilingual nation.
"People say, 'If you come here, you must learn English,' " said Carolyn
Adger, Language in Society director at the Center for Applied Linguistics in
Washington. "That's true. But that's not enough."
Immigrants quickly see the benefits for dealing with customers, delivery
people and employees. In Koreatown in Los Angeles, where 60 percent of the
residents are Hispanic, Vy Nguyen of the Korean Immigrant Workers Advocates
sees Hispanic workers learning Korean, and Korean liquor store owners
"You should see some of the Mexican workers in Jackson Heights," said Aioby,
who drives to the multicultural Queens neighborhood from his store once a
week for supplies. "The Spanish guys are speaking in Hindi. The Indian guys
are speaking in Spanish. They're even using bad words."
The government and academic worlds are starting to pay attention. Adger's
colleague, Dora Johnson, said researchers are looking at how people learn
third, and even fourth, languages.
She cites one study by the Center for Advanced Study of Language at the
University of Maryland, which works with the federal government to improve
the language skills of Intelligence and Defense Department employees.