Growing number of Americans speak more than 1 language

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English is the dominant language in the United States, but a growing number of Americans also speak another language.

Speaking a second language has a variety of benefits, bilingual Michigan State University students and faculty say.

“Learning a language really helps you understand the complexity of a language and appreciate the uniqueness,” said Alexa Dresner, a sophomore human biology student at Michigan State University. Dresner speaks English and Hebrew; half of her family lives in Israel.

Emma Prevoznak, a communication junior at Michigan State, is doing a study abroad program in Rome, where she is learning Italian. She said she was eager to learn the language so that she better fit into Italian culture.

“Language is a way for individuals to connect with other individuals within that culture,” she said.

In Europe, students must study multiple languages before becoming a teen, according to a study done by the Pew Research Center.

In the state of Michigan, approximately 846,255 people, which is 9.1 percent, speak another language other than English at home (5 years and older), according to a survey done in 2011 by the U.S. Census Bureau. At Michigan State, students come from more than 133 countries with a variety of languages.

Senta Goertler, an associate professor of second language studies and German, said she’s exposed to a variety of classes in her campus building, Wells Hall. She said she she recognizes German, Spanish, French, Spanish and Arabic, but hears more languages spoken around her that she can’t identify.

Maintaining my language skills is essential for also maintaining my German cultural identity,” Goertler said.

“Knowing another language shows you that there is more than one way of doing something and saying something or thinking about something, which is an important skill to have in life and at work.”

She said the experience of learning another language also makes people more empathetic to the struggle non-native speakers have learning a new language.

In a survey done in 2011 by census, for the United States population of 5 years and older about 60 million people speak a language other than English at home, or about 1 in 5 people. In 1980, only about 1 in 10 people spoke a language other than English at home.

Being bilingual “expands the different kinds of people you can talk to and different conversation and connections you have,” said Peter De costa, an assistant professor in the Department of Linguistics, Germanic, Slavic, Asian and African Languages at Michigan State.

“Being bilingual you are able to double your access to people, because not every will be able to speak English.”