Official figures show how immigration is making Canada more linguistically diverse

by Ray Clancy on August 16, 2017

While many people in Canada are known to speak English and French, official figures show that the nation is becoming more diverse with more people speaking more languages than ever before.

Almost 7.6 million Canadians reported speaking a language other than English or French at home in 2016, an increase of almost a million since 2011, according to new figures from Statistics Canada.

Canada Immigrants

(Markus Mainka/Bigstock.com)

Moreover, the proportion of the Canadian population who speak more than one language at home rose from 17.5% in 2011 to 19.4% in 2016.

In this context of increasing linguistic diversity, English and French remain the languages of convergence and integration into Canadian society and 93.4% of Canadians speak English or French at least on a regular basis at home.

Indeed, the rate of English–French bilingualism in Canada was 18% in 2016, the highest proportion ever. The previous high was 17.7% in 2001.

Overall, some 21.8% of Canadians reported speaking another language at home in 2016, compared with 20% in 2011. There was also an increase in the number of people who reported more than one language between 2011 and 2016, both for the question on mother tongue and the question on the language spoken at home.

However, the proportion of Canadians who report English or French as their mother tongue has been declining with each census. In 2016 some 78.9% of the Canadian population had English or French as their mother tongue, compared with 80.2% in 2011 and 82.4% in 2001.

The main immigrant languages spoken at home by Canadians in 2016 were Mandarin with 641,100 people, Cantonese 594,705 people, Punjabi 568,375 people, Spanish 553,495 people, Tagalog (Pilipino) 525,375 people and Arabic with 514,200 people.

Some languages saw significant growth from 2011 to 2016, including Tagalog up 35%, Arabic up 30%, Farsi up 26.7%, Hindi up 26.1% and Urdu up 25%, the largest increases while the number of people who spoke a Chinese language at home rose 16.8%.

European languages have recorded a decline with the number of people speaking Italian at home down by 10.9%, Polish down by 5.5%, German down by 3.3% and Greek down by 2.3%.

The report suggests that these trends reflect the changes that Canada has undergone in terms of the geographic origin of its immigrants. The number of people who speak languages from countries that are recent sources of immigration, primarily Asian countries, is on the rise. Meanwhile, the number of people who speak certain European languages, which reflect older waves of immigration, is declining.

In Montréal and Ottawa-Gatineau, Arabic was the main immigrant mother tongue. In Calgary and Edmonton, the three most common immigrant mother tongues were Tagalog, Punjabi and Cantonese. In Toronto and Vancouver, they were Cantonese, Mandarin and Punjabi.

The data also shows that there are almost 70 Aboriginal languages. Cree languages were the Aboriginal languages most often reported as the language spoken at home in Canada by 83,985 people. Inuktitut was spoken by 39,025 people, while 21,800 people spoke Ojibway, 13,855 Oji-Cree, 11,780 Dene and 10,960 people spoke Montagnais or Innu.

There was an increase in immigrant languages as mother tongue and as a language spoken at home in the Atlantic provinces. Arabic in particular saw strong growth from 2011 to 2016 and was the main immigrant language spoken at home in three Atlantic provinces. The only exception was Prince Edward Island, where Mandarin was the main immigrant language spoken at home.

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