Original URL: http://www.denverpost.com/Stories/0,1413,36%257E53%257E1686073,00.html
A world of languages colors Colorado
Russian growing fast in state, nation
The Denver Post


By David Olinger
Denver Post Staff Writer

A little more than a decade ago, Glendale's library didn't have a Russian book on its shelves.

"Today we get telephone calls from all over the state," said Bella Konikova, the librarian in charge of what is now the state's largest collection of Russian-language books, magazines and videos. One recent request: Russian versions of "The Odyssey," "Romeo and Juliet" and "To Kill a Mockingbird."

"We had them all," she said.

The transformation of a small suburban library reflects a trend confirmed by a U.S. Census Bureau report Wednesday: In communities across the United States, record numbers of people speak languages other than English.

Nationally, 47 million people - nearly one-fifth of U.S. residents age 5 and older - spoke a language other than English at home in 2000, according to the report. Of those, 55 percent said they also spoke English "very well."

In Colorado, a decade of immigration and population growth swelled the number of residents who speak a language other than English by 88 percent, to 604,019 in 2000. The state now ranks 10th in the percentage of residents who primarily speak Spanish.

Glendale reflects another trend in the latest Census Bureau report: On a percentage basis, the fastest-growing language in the United States is not Spanish, but Russian.

Nationwide, the number of people who speak Russian at home nearly tripled during the 1990s. In Colorado the number more than quadrupled, from 2,537 to 10,737.

Many of the newcomers settled in Glendale, which "tended to be a cheaper place to live," librarian Karen Hathaway said.

With the help of Russian-trained librarian Diana Dvorkina, the little Glendale library started buying Russian books about 13 years ago. It also helped people with basic questions about living in the United States: How do you open a checking account? Buy car insurance? Enroll your children in school?

Today, more than half the library staff speaks Russian and English; others speak Spanish and English. The library now serves as a location for English classes taught to people who speak 27 different languages.

The growing demand for such classes across the Arapahoe Library District has become "one of the factors" for a requested library tax increase, district spokeswoman Marlu Burkamp said.

Statistically, Spanish is by far the second-most-common language in Colorado homes, accounting for 70 percent of all who speak a language other than English. German ranks third, followed by French, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese and the fast-growing Russian community.

According to the Census Bureau, 56 percent of Colorado's Spanish- speaking residents are U.S. natives.

That does not surprise Rene Galindo, associate director of the Latino Research and Policy Center in Denver.

"Colorado, in the San Luis Valley, has always had a large Spanish-speaking population," he said. "It's not just immigrants."

Galindo has watched a commercial and political shift accompany the growth of a Spanish-speaking audience, from new television stations, bilingual and Spanish newspapers and flourishing business districts along streets such as Santa Fe Drive to the appearance of bilingual ballots in Denver last year.

The Census Bureau report found almost 12 million people nationwide were linguistically "isolated" in 2000 or lived in a home where no one older than 14 spoke English.

In general, those who speak European languages rated their English-speaking ability higher than those who speak Asian languages.

In Colorado, where a reported 12,045 people spoke Korean at home in 2000, "many of the people have language problems," said Ki Cho, publisher of the Korean News.

He said the language barrier often arises at critical locations: "in the hospital and at the court."