America - the real multilingual society

By the latest count, about 330 languages are spoken in the U.S. And more and more immigrants, speaking diverse languages, are demanding that U.S. society deal with them in their native tongues, authorities report. Those expectations are placing heavy additional burdens on institutions ranging from courts to hospitals, local governments and especially schools.

  • The number of limited-English-proficient students enrolled in public and non-public schools more than doubled between 1986 and 1997 - from 1,554,000 to 3,452,000.

  • Legal-aid agencies are increasingly suing government social service agencies - charging that non-English-speaking persons are denied job training and services.

  • Yet substantial numbers of immigrants feel no particular urgency to learn English - since they can form language enclaves, tune in to ethnic television programmes, or even purchase special radios tuned to foreign language broadcasts.

  • There is a boom in interpreting and translating services and the "language translation market" is expected to grow from $11 billion in 1999 to $20 billion by 2004 - yet courts, schools, government agencies, and the translation services themselves contend there is a serious interpreter shortage.

    The Supreme Court has interpreted Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to mean people cannot be denied services because they speak a foreign language.

    Source: NCPA Policy Digest/August Gribbin, "Learning English Not a Priority for Immigrants in U.S.," Washington Times, May 30, 2000.

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