Report: More Long Islanders Speak Languages Other Than English, Showing Growing Diversity

(Illustration/Creative Commons/Tobias Mikkelsen)

In a trend demonstrating the increasing diversity of Nassau and Suffolk counties, data published by the U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday showed that a growing population of Long Islanders speak languages other than English in the household.

Across the nation, from 2012 to 2016, 21.1 percent of those over 5 years old speak a language other than English, rising from 20.3 percent from 2007 to 2011, the data—from the census’s American Community Survey—showed.

Here in Nassau, 28 percent were found to speak a language other than English at home in 2012 to 2016, increasing from 27.5 percent for the 2007 to 2011 period. As for Suffolk in the same time frame, it rose to 22.5 percent from 20.1 percent.

Cheryl Keshner, coordinator of Long Island Language Advocates Coalition (LILAC), said the findings “demonstrate the fact that Long Islanders speak, read and understand a diversity of languages.”

“Government and community service providers must be able to respond professionally to their language needs in order to ensure the health, safety and well-being of all our community members. Those who receive federal funding are also legally required to provide competent interpreters, or bilingual staff, as well as translated materials, in a timely manner,” Keshner said.

August marked the four-year anniversary of Nassau County’s enactment of language access services—including interpreters and translated documents—as well as its subsequent lack of follow-through. LILAC issued a report in 2015 that the county had failed to act in “good faith” to make language access a reality.

Since the report, Keshner—who’s also a senior paralegal and community advocate with the Empire Justice Center—said the county has made some progress, but that there’s much more to be done.

The survey data also showed a change in population that further exemplifies the vibrant multicultural landscape of the region.

“It looks like Long Island is becoming a more globalized suburb…” demographer William Frey, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told Newsday, pointing to declines of populations with Italian, Irish, or German roots.