Tom Spencer / Published in the Austin American-Statesman – June 2014
For the past several decades, Austin has slowly wakened to the fact that it a bilingual city. According to US census data there were nearly 350,000 Spanish language speakers living in the metropolitan area in 2012.
Today, educators, healthcare providers and social service organizations are adjusting to a more complex reality: we are quickly becoming a multilingual community. Immigrants from nearly every corner of the globe now account for 17.5% of all Austin metro households.
The variety of fast-growing language groups in Central Texas is almost bewildering: Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Russian, Burmese, Hindi and Urdu are the primary languages of thousands of our neighbors.
This new reality poses a great challenge to many of our institutions that have limited access to reliable translation services. In fact, many agencies now cite multilingual translation service as a top priority for the community.
Failure to speak English well is the primary barrier to citizenship for many new immigrants; and obviously, it can also be a major factor in employment and educational opportunities. About 7.5% of local households are considered linguistically isolated, meaning no child over the age of 14 or adult in the house speaks English well.
Availability of English as a second language (ESL) classes and “English at work” programs are a major priority for local employers. Unfortunately, too many of the ESL courses available are designed for Spanish language speaking populations only.
Many of our local nonprofits are working very hard to assist our diverse community in culturally and linguistically appropriate ways. These organizations are providing ESL classes for adults as well as children and often help one another find translators for families needing medical services and more.
I Live Here, I Give Here urges you to get involved. Supporting these and other nonprofits will help assure many of our newest neighbors are successful as they reach for their own version of the American Dream!
Nonprofits providing ESL and translation services:
Interfaith Action of Central Texas – teaches ESL to newly arrived refugees
Asian Family Support Services of Austin (formerly SAHELI) – supports Asian communities through advocacy, awareness and access to social services.
American Gateways – provides legal and educational services to immigrants