Lost for words: One in every 20 Torontonians can’t speak English or French, study finds

Interesting data, although it appears that in percentage terms, no significant change. As one would expect, lack of official language more prevalent among seniors, women, and low-income.

Will be including this data in my upcoming riding-based analysis:

One in 20 Torontonians can’t speak English or French and the language barrier has greatly impeded their ability to find a job, be active in the community and enjoy a decent life, says a new study.

More than 132,700 Toronto residents are unable to have a conversation in either official language and they account for 20.5 per cent of the 648,970 non-English and non-French-speaking population across Canada, according to the Social Planning Toronto report which is believed to be the first ever to profile this cohort.

Census data collected between 1996 and 2016 found the number of people without knowledge of either official language has increased by more than 175,000 in Canada over the two decades, though it fluctuated only slightly as a percentage of the total population. In Toronto, the number of people who don’t speak English or French shrank by 10,000 in the same period.

In the GTA, Toronto’s percentage of non-English and non-French speakers ranks second to York Region (5.6 per cent) and is followed by Peel (4 per cent), Hamilton (1.8 per cent) and Durham (0.8 per cent).

Within the city, this population mostly resides in the west end of North York, throughout the former city of York, in the old city of Toronto and in northwestern Scarborough, which alone is home to more than 30,000 residents with no English or French.

The report found a total of 43.5 per cent of Toronto residents who do not speak an official language reported a Chinese language as their mother tongue, followed by Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, Tamil, Vietnamese, Korean, Persian, Russian and Arabic. These residents also tend to live in areas where their mother tongue is common, it said.

“There is a range of diversity within the group, but we have an overrepresentation of seniors and women who don’t speak English or French,” said Peter Clutterbuck, interim executive director of Social Planning Toronto, a non-profit group that works to improve equity, social justice and quality of life. “You can’t get employment without some capacity of an official language or access services if you are unable to communicate with others. It limits your ability to be active in the community and to feel connected.”

The report, titled Talking Access & Equity, said women and girls make up almost 60 per cent of Toronto residents who speak neither official language, though they only account for 51.9 per cent of the city’s population.

While only 15.6 per cent of Toronto residents are 65 and above, 44.6 per cent of the city’s non-English, non-French-speaking population belong to this age group.

The report said both women and seniors are more likely to come to Canada as dependants and hence may lack the same official-language skills required of the principal applicants or sponsors.

Fahmeeda Qureshi was sponsored by her husband to Canada from Pakistan in 1972 when she was 18, and never attended English classes because she was busy caring for her three children, parents and in-laws.

“I was too busy to learn English because I had to look after everyone else,” said the now 66-year-old, who spoke little English when she arrived and later picked up the language informally from her husband and children. “It is very important to learn English so you can communicate and do anything you want and be independent.”

Robert Koil, who came to Canada in 1992 and later founded a Tamil seniors group in Rexdale, said older immigrants without English proficiency are forced to rely on their children in their day-to-day lives as they’re often isolated from the world outside of their family.

“They don’t know other people and need help for mobility issues and health issues,” said Koil, 88, whose group organizes monthly seminars and meetings at Rexdale Women’s Centre for non-English-speaking Tamil seniors about health, diet and well-being.

“They speak in their mother tongue at home, stay with their children and are afraid to speak English because they are embarrassed by their English,” added Koil, who unlike many of the people he helps, spoke flawless English when he arrived in Canada.

Jenny Huang moved to Canada from China in 2009 with her daughter and husband.

“I only started learning English in junior high (in China) and knew just a few English words when I came,” Huang said in Cantonese. “I go to English classes but it’s hard to learn a new language as an adult. I can understand better than I speak.”

With limited English, Huang said she also has limited job opportunities and gets by working in restaurants and garment factories.

The report found 35.7 per cent of Torontonians with no English or French had a household income below the poverty line compared to 20.2 per cent of residents overall. The unemployment rate for residents without official-language ability was three percentage points higher than the Toronto average.

Source: Lost for words: One in every 20 Torontonians can’t speak English or French, study finds

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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