When Afghan immigrant Miram Aioby arrived in the United States in the early 1980s, he landed in Miami Beach, where people thought he was Cuban and insisted he speak Spanish.
So, as he roamed the city stocking its vending machines, he learned Spanish and English.
"I had to learn both to survive," said Aioby, 47, who now runs an Albany grocery that caters to a mix of South Asians and Bosnians. "After a year, I was pretty good."
As new immigrants arrive in already diverse neighborhoods, the language they embrace isn't always English. Honduran cooks learn Mandarin. Mexican clerks learn Korean. Most often, people learn Spanish.
Language experts say it is a phenomenon that has gone largely unstudied. There are no tidy reports or statistics at hand, but they say the trend could finally help make the U.S. a multilingual nation. "People say, `If you come here, you must learn English,"' said Carolyn Adger, Language in Society director at the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington. "That's true. But that's not enough." Immigrants quickly see the benefits for dealing with customers, delivery people and employees. In Koreatown in Los Angeles, where 60 percent of the residents are Hispanic, Vy Nguyen of the Korean Immigrant Workers Advocates sees Hispanic workers learning Korean, and Korean liquor store owners learning Spanish, reports the AP. I.L.