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Multilingualism in Minnesota

Written by Kendall A. King, professor of second language education at the University of Minnesota, for local Minnesotan paper StarTribune, “Embrace multilingualism as a goal for all Minnesota students” discusses a recent Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report which documents “the diversity within [the] state’s growing multilingual student population.”

According to MPI’s report, the number of multilingual learners in Minnesota has increased by 77 percent from 2000 to 2015. While the rest of the country is experiencing a similar boom, Minnesota’s growth has a distinct variation: “In other U.S. states, the most widely spoken non-English language is Spanish… [but in Minnesota] thousands of children… who are learning English come from homes with many languages besides Spanish, such as Hmong, Somali, Oromo, Amharic, Swahili, Chinese and Vietnamese.”

King believes that Minnesotans should promote multilingualism in education, citing decades of empirical research that supports bilingual learning such as positive cognitive development, problem-solving skills, and logical thinking.

Furthermore, King argues that multilingualism has an economic benefit: “Proficient bilinguals on average earn $3,000 more per year, even controlling for factors such as education. The Economist reports that for a U.S. graduate, a second language is worth up to $128,000 over the course of a career.” By extension, multilinguals boost a given states’ GDP “by attracting international investment and high-skilled workers to [the] region.”

As many bilingual educators already know, a strong first language background “lays the groundwork for strong English language skills,” fostering second language acquisition and subsequent development. With this reasoning, Minnesotans should encourage both home language(s) and English language development in education as “five decades of research [show that] bilingual literacy and content instruction, leads to academic achievement, school engagement and English language proficiency.”

King claims that an English-only policy that forces “immigrants and indigenous people… to lose their home languages as quickly as possible,” is “more dangerous and shortsighted in today’s economy, which demands high levels of literacy and skills that allow for lifelong learning.” To quell English-only sentiments, King promotes creating more opportunities to support home languages in education perhaps through multilingual instruction.

King pushes readers to questions themselves: “What languages are used in our community? What native languages were/are spoken in our area? How can we all become closer to our neighbors, both old and new, by learning more about their languages, and maybe even learning to speak a little of them, too?”

In urging ourselves to recognize the benefits of the many languages that surround us, we learn to approach multilingualism with an asset mindset.


-Melissa Hoppie, Graduate Student Researcher

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TWIN-CS advances the Catholic tradition of academic excellence by empowering Catholic schools to systematically transform from a monolingual to multilingual educational model in the service of vibrant culturally diverse populations.

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