Immigrants learn English sometimes as 3rd language
Associated Press
Oct. 9, 2005

Cara Anna

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 learning Spanish.

"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.