Fewer Latinos in Denver speak Spanish than in other large metro areas

The percentage of the Latino population that speaks Spanish is going down — and it’s lower in Denver than in 24 other metro areas surveyed.

A mural by Bimmer Torrez on the side of Bella Calla Flower Shop in Whittier. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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Spanish is the most frequently spoken language after English in the United States, and the number of Spanish speakers continues to grow with the Latino population.

But the percentage of the Latino population that speaks Spanish is going down — and it’s lower in Denver than in 24 other metro areas surveyed by the Pew Research Center.

Pew gets its information from Census Bureau data. In 2015, some 73 percent of Latinos spoke Spanish at home, down from 78 percent in 2006. The decline in the use of Spanish was found in all 25 metro areas that Pew looked at, though some cities saw larger declines than others.

The use of Spanish by Latinos can vary greatly by metro area, in part because immigrants are much more likely to speak Spanish than those born in the U.S. The large presence of immigrants in the Miami metro area, for example, helps explain why a far greater share of Latinos there speak Spanish than in metro areas like Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, where the vast majority of Latinos are U.S. born.

With the exception of border cities like McAllen, Texas, places where most Latinos are born in the U.S. are also places where Spanish is less commonly spoken. It’s really that simple.

Roughly 57 percent of Latinos in the Denver metro area speak Spanish, the lowest percentage among the surveyed cities, and just 29 percent of Latinos in the Denver metro area are immigrants. Sacramento, California, and San Antonio, Texas, also had relatively low rates of Spanish use — about 60 percent — and similarly, their Latino populations are overwhelmingly from the United States. In Sacramento, 30 percent of Latinos are immigrants, and in San Antonio, it’s just 16 percent.

In contrast, 90 percent of Latinos speak Spanish in Miami, and 64 percent of the Latino population consists of immigrants, Pew found.

Erica Meltzer

Author: Erica Meltzer

Erica Meltzer covers government and politics. She's worked for newspapers in Colorado, Arizona and Illinois and once won a First Amendment Award by showing up in the wrong place at the wrong time. She served in the Peace Corps in Paraguay and can swear fluently in Guarani. She gets emotional about public libraries. Contact Erica Meltzer at 303-502-2802, emeltzer@denverite.com or @meltzere.