Census: English becoming less common in Minn. homesby Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio
Rochester, Minn. — At her home in Rochester, Maria Posada laid down the law many years ago: no English at home.
And she's adamant about her rule, especially at dinner time. If her 13-year-old son Esteban and 15-year-old daughter Camila speak to her in English, she ignores them. Text messages have to be in Spanish -- and they can't have any abbreviations.
Camila said her mom often turns her questions into mini Spanish lessons.
"If I'm talking to my mom in Spanish, I'll just say the word in English that I can't remember, and then she'll tell me so that I'll know later on what the word is," she said.
Demographic estimates released this week by the Census Bureau show Minnesota is more diverse than ever before. One of the biggest indicators of that is language. In cities and towns across the state, more and more people are speaking a language other than English at home.
Some people do so out of necessity because they haven't learned English yet. Others want to master a new language while also holding on to their native tongues.
They include the Bedoya family, who in 1999 moved from Colombia to southeast Minnesota, where Hernando Bedoya works as an engineer at IBM. His wifem Maria Posada, said making sure their English-speaking children also become fluent in Spanish is important.
"I want for them to have communication with our relatives in Colombia, that's one reason," Posada said. "The other, I want for them to be bilingual."
The Bedoya family is among the 10.4 percent of Olmsted County residents who do not speak English as their primary language at home, according to a new census survey. That's up 6 percent since 2000, when 9.8 percent of county residents spoke another language at home.
Olmsted is one of eight counties that surpass the state's average for people over the age of 5 who speak a language other than English at home. The other counties are Nobles, Watonwan, Ramsey, Hennepin, Scott, Rice and Dakota.
Statewide, 9.6 percent of Minnesotans speak another language at home, compared to 8.5 in 2000. Minnesota is still well below the national average of 19.6 percent.
Still, the change is happening in communities in all corners of the state. Small rural towns like Butterfield, Pelican Rapids, Mapleview and Worthington have experience double- and in some cases triple-digit increases.
In the Twin Cities metropolitan area, Brooklyn Center surpassed Minneapolis and St. Paul for the biggest change in language spoken at home.
For Brooklyn Center Schools Superintendent Keith Lester, the prevalence of Spanish, Hmong, Somali and other languages comes as no surprise.
"We've been experiencing that in a real controlled area," Lester said. "We're a small school district with two buildings. I came here six years ago, and we were 65 percent diverse at that time."
Lester said the district is now focused on improving communication with parents. He points to a new program that's attracting dozens of Spanish-speaking parents.
"They learn how to navigate the schools, how to communicate with the schools, how to ask questions," he said. "In our first round, we expected 15 parents and we have 70. We just have to keep doing this. We have to find ways to reach the families and stay connected with the kids."
The surge of non-English speakers across the state has also put a huge demand on English programs for adults who want to learn English.
There is an increasing demand for experienced teachers of English as a Second Language, especially outside the Twin Cities, said Kim Johnson director of ATLAS, a program at Hamline University in St. Paul that trains ESL teachers.
"Part of it is simply the experience that we've had in the Twin Cities, which is different from what's happening in greater Minnesota," Johnson said. "We've had a longer period of time with these populations in the Cities."
The languages Minnesotans speak have also affected businesses, both big and small. No one knows this better than Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh, who has owned a body shop for nearly three decades.
Nearly 30 percent of Worthington's population now speaks a language other than English at home, according to the latest figures. That's an 18 percent increase since the 2000 Census.
Oberloh said the change has been staggering at his shop. He estimates half his customers now are non-white and non-English speaking.
"You catch yourself wanting to talk louder to somebody who you don't think understands you, but that doesn't do any good," he said. "They still don't understand you."
Oberloh, 56, said he's too old to learn Spanish now. But he said he's encouraged by the changing face of his community and many of the younger people who speak more than one language.
Percent of People 5 Years and Over Who Speak a Language Other Than English at Home
- All Things Considered, 12/17/2010, 5:16 p.m.