Although English and French are the main languages spoken in Canada, the country’s linguistic diversity continues to grow.
Immigration has continued to enrich Canada’s linguistic diversity.
The Statistics Canada report found that 4.6 million Canadians predominately speak a language other than English and French at home. In particular, 1 in 4 Canadians in 2021, or 9 million people, had a mother tongue other than English and French. This is a record high since 1901, when Statistics Canada began to include data on mother tongues.
Granted, English and French remain the most commonly spoken languages in Canada. More than 9 in 10 Canadians speak one of the two official languages at home on a regular basis.
Language diversity due to immigration
Immigration has been increasing the number of Canadians who speak a language other than English and French at home. The number of Canadians who spoke predominately a South Asian language at home grew significantly from 2016 to 2021.
While the Canadian population grew 5.2% from 2016 to 2021, the number of Canadians who spoke a South Asian language at home grew much faster, particularly speakers of Malayalam (+129%), Hindi, (+66%), Punjabi (+49%) and Gujarati (+43%). In fact, the growth rate of the number of speakers of South Asian languages was at least eight times larger than that of the entire Canadian population.
This growth is largely due to immigration, with one quarter of the permanent residents who arrived in Canada between 2016 and 2020 were brown in a South Asian country, and 1 in 5 were born in India.
Notwithstanding English and French, Mandarin and Punjabi were Canada’s most widely spoken languages. In 2021, more than half a million Canadians spoke predominately Mandarin at home and more than half a million spoke Punjabi.
At the same time, there was a decline in the number of Canadians who spoke predominately European languages at home. This decrease is primarily linked to the speakers of these languages aging, a significant proportion of whom immigrated to Canada before 1980. In addition, there are relatively few immigrations from Italy, Poland or Greece who have recently arrived in Canada.
Canadians who spoke a language other than English and French were more likely to live in a large urban center than other Canadians. Each year, large urban centres are the destination of a significant proportion of immigrants who settle in Canada, which increases the linguistic diversity of these centers.
More than 70 different languages are spoken in Canada. In 2021, 189,000 people reported having at least one Indigenous mother tongue and 183,000 reported speaking an Indigenous language at home on a regular basis.
Cree languages and Inuktitut are the main indigenous languages in Canada.
English and French
The vast majority of Canadians speak at least one of Canada’s two official languages. In 2021, 98.1% of the Canadian population could have a conversation in English and French, and 92.9% spoke English or French at home on a regular basis.
English is the first official language spoken by just over 3 in 4 Canadians, which has increased from 2016. English was also the mother tongue of more than half of the country’s population.
French is the first official language spoken by an increasing number of Canadians. In 2021, more than 1 in 5 Canadians spoke French at home on a regular basis. From 2016 to 2021, the number of Canadian who spoke predominately French at home rose in Quebec, British Columbia and Yukon, but decreased in other provinces and territories.
According to the report, this decrease is due to a combination of factors such as an older population on average, incomplete transmission of French from one generation to the next, and linguistic transfers (when a person speaks a language at home that is different from their mother tongue).
For the first time, the number of people in Quebec whose first official language spoken is English topped 1 million, but the proportion of bilingual English-French Canadians remained virtually unchanged since 2016. Moreover, the number of French speakers in Quebec is increasing, but their proportion in Quebec is decreasing.