Research at the U: Spanish speakers in Miami are decreasing

Dr. Andrew Lynch courtesy University of Miami

Nearly 60 percent of Miami-Dade County residents declared Spanish as their first language in the 2000 Census. And while many people unfamiliar with the Miami area say the presence of Spanish in Miami is increasing, research conducted within the University of Miami’s Department of Modern Languages suggests otherwise.

“While Spanish can certainly be heard more frequently than English in many communities of Miami-Dade County, the fact is most second- and third-generation Hispanic-Americans rarely speak it with each other,” said Andrew Lynch, a professor of Spanish and Latin American studies and the director of the Spanish heritage language program.

In his research, Lynch has observed how use of the Spanish language is changing across three generations of Cuban Americans. His conclusions have revealed that there is a significant cross-generational decline of the language occurring in Miami and that fourth- and fifth-generation Cuban Americans are likely to speak little Spanish, if any at all.

“The situation in Miami is rather paradoxical- on the one hand, Miami is by far the most bilingual city in the nation and a center for Latin American commerce, entertainment and mass media, but on the other hand, U.S.-born Hispanics are growing up without having to formally learn or speak much Spanish,” Lynch said.

While his research does reveal a substantial trend occurring in Miami-Dade County, it confirms the fact that students in the United States are lagging far behind their European and Asian counterparts when it comes to learning how to speak more than one language fluently.

“I do not think multilingual education and cultural acceptance is emphasized enough for the globalized world we seem to be emerging into,” said sophomore Tiara Morrison, who is majoring in anthropology and minoring in modern languages.

Spanish greatly contributes to the unique culture that encompasses life in Miami, but the reality is, with such an influx of new immigrants to Miami from places outside of Latin America, the number of Spanish speakers may be on the decline, further demonstrating why multilingual education is so critical for students of the 21st century.

Research at the U is a new bimonthly column devoted to informing students of research happening on our campus.

Jonathan Lebowitz may be contacted at jlebowitz@themiamihurricane.com.