By Kenneth Reeds, Department of Foreign Languages
The United States is growing and changing. Mandated by the Constitution, the U.S. Census Bureau is charged with counting the people who live in the country. This began in 1790 when the population was 3,929,326 and has continued every ten years with the most recent survey taken in 2010 showing a population of 308,745,538. Other than demonstrating that our numbers have increased 9.7% since 2000, the 2010 census also revealed that minorities now make up 35% of the country. This changing face was reflected by the fact that Hispanics are the group which most contributed to growth:
The rise in the minority population is due to recent sharp increases in minority births, especially among Hispanics, who accounted for more than half of total U.S. population gains last year. There are now roughly 9 births for every 1 death among Latinos, compared to a roughly one-to-one ratio for whites. (Yen)
This information demonstrates that while we grow, we are also becoming something different. Minorities are increasingly less a minority. This national trend is reflected locally with the Boston Globe reporting that the “Asian and Hispanic populations both climbed 46 percent from a decade ago” in Massachusetts (Schworm and Carroll). It is, of course, natural to assume that this physical transformation of our population also influences the way we sound.
Unfortunately the census did not analyze the languages that we speak. Nevertheless, the Commonwealth Corporation published a report in March 2011 that provides a helpful portrait of the Boston area’s many tongues. Their report indicated that in 2006-2008 “there were 524,451 immigrants, age 16 or older, living in the 80 towns and cities of Greater Boston” (Commonwealth Corp.). This nearly one quarter of the region’s population speaks multiple mother languages with Spanish (112,995 speakers), Portuguese (46,605), Chinese (35,266), and Vietnamese (17,408) being the four most represented. Unfortunately, the same report also indicates that only 5% of the 236,933 immigrants with “Limited English Skills” have access to English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) services. This means that
At any given point, more than 10,000 people are on waiting lists, some for as long as two years, and there are indications that thousands more are not applying for services or may not know they exist. In addition, some 6,000 new immigrants arrive in Greater Boston every year. (Commonwealth Corp.)
These statistics paint a portrait of the Boston area as one which speaks many languages and comes from multiple countries, but that struggles to provide the services that are needed to learn English.
Taking the increase in the minority population in our region together with the dearth of ESOL services emphasizes that our small part of the country reflects national trends. Minority populations and the languages that they speak are less and less ‘foreign’ and are increasingly a part of our national fabric. In fact, the linguistic and cultural knowledge these citizens possess is an invaluable resource. Because of this, the essentialness of providing ESOL opportunities is all the more patent – the more multilingual and pluri-cultural our society the better we relate to our world’s increased interconnectivity. With this in mind, the changing face of our country also means that those of us who are born with English must expand our skills and look to some of the nation’s growing languages in an effort to augment our abilities. We are, after all, a small part of a growing and changing world.
Commonwealth Corporation. Breaking the Language Barrier: A Report on English Language Services in Greater Boston. Boston: The Boston Foundation, 2011. 8 April 2011 .
Schworm, Peter and Matt Carroll. “In census, a decade of growth by state’s minorities.” boston.com. 23 March 2011. 8 April 2011.
Yen, Hope. “U.S. Minority Population Could Be Majority by Mid-Century Census Shows.” huffingtonpost.com. 10 June 2010. 8 April 2011.