StatsCan: While English and French are still the main languages spoken in Canada, the country’s linguistic diversity continues to grow

Of note, if not unexpected given immigration impact:

English is the first official language spoken by just over three in four Canadians. This proportion increased from 74.8% in 2016 to 75.5% in 2021.

French is the first official language spoken by an increasing number of Canadians, but the proportion fell from 22.2% in 2016 to 21.4% in 2021.

From 2016 to 2021, the number of Canadians who spoke predominantly French at home rose in Quebec, British Columbia and Yukon, but decreased in the other provinces and territories.

The proportion of Canadians who spoke predominantly French at home decreased in all the provinces and territories, except Yukon.

For the first time in the census, the number of people in Quebec whose first official language spoken is English topped 1 million and their proportion of the population rose from 12.0% in 2016 to 13.0% in 2021. Moreover, 7 in 10 English speakers lived on Montréal Island or in Montérégie. 

The proportion of bilingual English-French Canadians (18.0%) remained virtually unchanged from 2016. From 2016 to 2021, the increase in the bilingualism rate in Quebec (from 44.5% to 46.4%) offset the decrease observed outside Quebec (from 9.8% to 9.5%). 

In Canada, 4 in 10 people could conduct a conversation in more than one language. This proportion rose from 39.0% in 2016 to 41.2% in 2021. In addition, 1 in 11 could speak three or more languages. 

In 2021, one in four Canadians had at least one mother tongue other than English or French, and one in eight Canadians spoke predominantly a language other than English or French at home—both the highest proportions on record.

The number of Canadians who spoke predominantly a South Asian language such as Gujarati, Punjabi, Hindi or Malayalam at home grew significantly from 2016 to 2021, an increase fuelled by immigration. In fact, the growth rate of the population speaking one of these languages was at least eight times larger than that of the overall Canadian population during this period.

In contrast, there was a decline in the number of Canadians who spoke predominantly certain European languages at home, such as Italian, Polish and Greek.

Aside from English and French, Mandarin and Punjabi were the country’s most widely spoken languages. In 2021, more than half a million Canadians spoke predominantly Mandarin at home and more than half a million spoke Punjabi.

Among Canadians whose mother tongue is neither English nor French, 7 in 10 spoke an official language at home at least on a regular basis. 

In 2021, 189,000 people reported having at least one Indigenous mother tongue and 183,000 reported speaking an Indigenous language at home at least on a regular basis. Cree languages and Inuktitut are the main Indigenous languages spoken in Canada.

Among individuals with an Indigenous mother tongue, four out of five spoke that language at home at least on a regular basis, and half spoke it predominantly.

Source: While English and French are still the main languages spoken in Canada, the country’s linguistic diversity continues to grow

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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