Language Diversity

Did you know that there are 137 documented languages spoken in Sioux Falls? The Argus Leader recently published an article discussing the diverse languages in Sioux Falls. Check out the list of languages here. Here at the Center for New Americans, we conducted an informal poll with some of our adult ESL students about the languages they spoke. Our findings? In just one class of 10 students, 20 different languages were spoken! Some students spoke many languages (the highest was 7!) and others only knew their native language and English.

For all of the students polled, their native language holds a special place in their hearts. It connects them to their childhood and to their relatives still back home. All said that they planned on teaching their children their native language. They wanted to pass on their heritage to their children and language is one way to do that. Some students even offered to teach others in the community their language. One student saw it as a “way to teach and share [his] culture with others in order to help each other.”

Diversity Mural

Diversity Mural in Meldrum Park (Photo from City of Sioux Falls website)

As the students learn English, they sometimes struggle with the desire to improve English fluency and the desire to preserve their roots. Some try to balance this by using their native language at home and practicing English while out in the city. However, even this can be difficult as their accents can be tricky to understand sometimes. Some students become quite embarrassed and have felt that their intelligence was being judged based on their accent alone and consequently did not want to speak English in front of strangers. However, they really appreciate those who are patient with them and will take the time to explain mistakes gently or teach commonly-used idioms to them. They want to improve and practice makes perfect! The ultimate goal for them? To be able to communicate with anyone in the community, whenever, and without needing any help.

Check out these tips for communicating with someone learning English. Or get real experience by volunteering in our ESL classrooms as an assistant! Fill out an application here.


Kristyne Walth, Volunteer Coordinator, LSS Center for New Americans

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