Utah ranks No. 2 in growth of residents who speak a language besides English at home


(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Erika Velasco holds her son Mateo in her parents' West Valley City home Wednesday. Velasco, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, is bilingual. Utah had the second fastest growth among American states since 2010 in residents who speak a language other than English at home. Most of the growth came from people born in the United States, but whose parents were immigrants.

During this decade, Utah sped along to the second-fastest growth rate for residents who speak a language other than English while at home, a shift driven by the children of immigrants.

That population grew by 20 percent between 2010 and 2016, second only to the 25 percent growth rate in Wyoming, according to a Center for Immigration Studies report released Wednesday, which relied on U.S. Census Bureau data.

Utah saw a doubling of the national average of 10 percent growth. The state now has more than 400,000 residents who speak something other than English at home.

“Most of that growth is from native-born people, the children of immigrants born here” — not new immigrants arriving, said Pam Perlich, demographics director at the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

“That’s a new twist we haven’t seen before,” she said. “They may speak English, too. But they are a second generation preserving the language of the immigrants.”

Erika Villalba, 20, of West Valley City, is among them. She was born in Utah to Mexican immigrants.

“My parents spoke Spanish at home. So if they spoke in Spanish, you had to answer back in Spanish,” she says. She learned English mostly in the Head Start program before kindergarten.

She remembers that, as a child, she “would forget which language you were speaking,” but said she was helped by an older brother and cousins to learn English and keep her two languages straight.

She adds that the second-generation speakers would gain a little extra power in their families by being bilingual.

“Our parents really looked toward us whenever we went out, like, ‘Hey can you translate for me,’ or, ’I have a doctor’s appointment so can you come so I know what’s going on?’”

Villalba has a 1-year-old son now, and she also wants him to learn Spanish before English — so she does things such as play movies in Spanish. “I just feel like it’s really useful to speak both.” She works in a bank and says her language skills help her in her job. “A lot of Hispanics come into the branch, so it’s comfortable for them to speak Spanish to me.”

Perlich said Census data show the number of Utahns who speak a language besides English at home grew by nearly 70,000 between 2010 and 2016. About two-thirds of that increase, or more than 46,000, came from native-born residents, likely the children of immigrants. Another 23,500 came from foreign-born immigrants.

Perlich said immigrants are often young people who come looking for work — and are in their childbearing years. So it isn’t surprising that their children born here are the fastest-growing segment of people who speak another language in the state.

Perlich said another reason Utah may rank so high is that in-migration to the state has restarted here in recent years after it virtually stopped during the Great Recession, because Utah’s economy has improved and is once again attracting new workers.

“International migration has been a key part of that,” she said.

However, it has shifted away from Mexico and Latin America — which produced the most immigrants before the recession — toward Asia now. Most Asian immigrants here are attracted to Utah’s high-tech and financial sectors, and university studies related to those fields, she said. “Many are from China and India,” she said.

Perlich noted that population growth among speakers of other languages in Utah is much faster than those who speak only English.

The overall population of Utah grew 11.3 percent between 2010 and 2016, she said. Meanwhile, the population of English-only-at-home speakers grew by 10 percent — half the 20 percent growth seen among those who speak another language at home.

The new study noted that 15.3 percent of Utahns now speak a language other than English at home, or about one of every seven. In 1980, that percentage was 7.5 percent, or one of every 13.

Nationwide, the study said a record 65.5 million U.S. residents five years of age and older spoke a language other than English at home. The number has jumped by 6 million since 2010 and by nearly 34 million since 1990.