By Briana Vannozzi
11 year-old Elliot Cadeau has no problem switching between his English homework and speaking Swedish with his mom.
“I’m from Sweden, my husband is from Haiti, so he speaks Creole and French, and we all speak English as a family,” said Michelle Cadeau.
Newly released data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, shows one in four homes in New Jersey speak a language other than English.
“There’s been a small but significant increase in the percent of people age five and older who speak a language other than English. In New Jersey its gone from about 30 percent to 31 percent from 2010-2013, ” said Christine Gambino, Demographer for the U.S. Census Bureau.
“We moved from Brooklyn to West Orange and one of the things we noticed when we were house hunting and at the parks, that more often than not parents spoke a second language with their children in the park and at the schools and so on. So that’s what attracted us to that community,” continued Cadeau.
Spanish is the most frequently spoken language in New Jersey after English followed by Chinese, Portuguese, Tagalog, Italian, Korean, Gujarati, Polish, Hindi and Arabic.
Gambino said, “What we found was in New Jersey respondents reported speaking 155 different languages.” And about one in eight garden state residents speak English with less than “very well” proficiency according to the survey. The U.S. Census Bureau says that’s key information for policy makers, researchers and planners. For the first time ever, this new data expanded the list of languages tabulated from 39 in previous surveys to 350.
For many families keeping their native language is most important for the children, so they can communicate with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who are still in their native countries.
“I wouldn’t be able to communicate with them, or they might have to learn a little English to communicate with me,” said Elliot Cadeau. His mother continued, “It was also important to me because a lot of emotions, a lot of special words in your language, you kind of can’t transfer in your new language. Even though I’m fluent in English, I don’t have the same emotional attachment to it.”
The family is now settled in Mendham, where Cadeau has built up a network of other Swedish families. “Studies have shown that a second language, not a second language another first language so to speak at home, that does a lot to those kids brains to help them develop and those kids will be an asset to New Jersey community in the future,” said Michelle.
For Elliot and his generation of friends, that future may not need to track multilingualism. That future may just be the norm.