About one in four residents in Hawai‘i speak a language other than English at home. That’s according to a new report by the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. And as HPR’s Molly Solomon reports, it offers a different look into the state’s diverse community.
The report shows more than 130 languages are spoken across the islands. The top three include Ilocano, Tagalog, and Japanese.
“This is truly a place where people from many, many different backgrounds live together,” said Dina Yoshimi, a UH Mānoa Associate Professor of East Asian languages. She’s also the program manager for the Hawaiʻi Language Roadmap Initiative. They work toward creating economic opportunities for a multilingual workforce. “One of the things that we’ve been seeing is an increasing need for Ilocano and Tagalog speakers, particularly in the health industry, but also in finance, banking, and everyday things.”
The report shows the number of non-native speakers vary significantly by county. The highest proportion is in Honolulu, where 28% speak a language other than English. The report also reveals economic setbacks for residents with low English proficiency. They often earn less money and are more concentrated in food service and cleaning or maintenance jobs.
Yoshimi says Hawai‘i could be doing a better job of providing a wider net of opportunity. “We know we have this multilingual, multicultural society. I think this report needs to help us see that we are not finished yet,” said Yoshimi. “We haven’t fully brought everybody in, some people aren’t making it. We’re also not fully respecting what is there and we want to help that thrive as well.”
Read the full DBEDT report here: