SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — New U.S. Census data shows that about 120 languages are now spoken in Utah, with Spanish, Chinese and Pacific Island languages among the top in the state after English.
Statewide, about 14 percent of residents speak a language other than English at home, a number that reflects a growing number of Utah immigrants, University of Utah senior research economist Pam Perlich said.
The state experienced an influx in the 1990s as people moved from immigration hubs in costal states, but inward migration came to a near-halt when the economic crisis hit in 2008, she said.
It’s been slowly picking back up since then, said Perlich, as newcomers are attracted by a strong economy and the international pull of the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The report released Tuesday analyzed data between 2009 and 2013. The agency says the report contains the most comprehensive data it’s ever released on the topic, and expands the number of languages tracked from 39 to 350.
In some of the nation’s major metro areas like Los Angeles and Miami, more than 50 percent of the population spoke a language other than English at home.
In Salt Lake County, that number was about 20 percent of the population, approximately in line with cities like Atlanta and Seattle. In Utah’s most populous county, the most commonly spoken languages also included Vietnamese and Tongan.
The majority of Utah residents, about 86 percent, live in English-speaking households.
Utah is a relatively fast-growing state, and about two-thirds of its growth between 1990 through 2010 was from births, Perlich said.
The other third came from new residents, with about half of those newcomers moving from outside the U.S.
Spanish is by far the most popular language spoken after English in Utah, with about 246,000 speakers.
About 13,000 people speak languages that originate in the Pacific Islands, such as Tongan and Samoan.
Another 8,000 speak Navajo, centered primarily on the portion of the Navajo Nation that falls in southern Utah— one language that was spoken long before immigrants from Europe arrived.
The plethora of languages can present challenges, especially for schools looking to educate non-English speaking students, Perlich said.
But with those new people come new ideas, outlooks and even new business ideas.
“It gives us a much greater ability to see and address problems, to come up with the great, creative solutions that you don’t get if everyone is just the same,” said Perlich.