Speaking is an important form of communication but a new study has found almost five per cent of people living in Toronto cannot speak English or French, Canada’s official languages.
The report, done by Social Planning Toronto, looked at 2016 Census data and found 85.9 per cent of people living in Toronto speak English only, .1 per cent of people spoke French only and 9.1 per cent of people were bilingual, speaking both English and French.
But more than 132,700 people living in Toronto – which makes up 4.9 per cent of the city’s population – are not able to converse in either French or English.
“When we think of diversity we think of racial or cultural diversity but we don’t often think about some of the basic needs people have to communicate and to be served in their own language,” said Peter Clutterbuck, interim executive director of Social Planning Toronto.
“Language diversity is a very significant issue in peoples’ lives and we need to take it into consideration when we are offering services to them.”
The report found women and girls make up 59.9 per cent of people who are unable to speak either of Canada’s official languages and 44.6 per cent are 65 years and older.
“One of the most important things is the number of women and seniors who make up this population of people in Toronto who cannot speak English or French. They are very disproportionally represented,” he said.
“It’s a significant sized population…Usually when people immigrate, they come for economic reasons – and it’s usually men – They bring their families and sponsor their families after they arrive and women and seniors are not as proficient in the language as immigrants that do qualify in the language criteria to come to Canada.”
Over 35 per cent of those people who cannot speak an official language are in poverty and have difficulties finding employment, the report found.
Clutterbuck said there are ways to improve access to English or French classes and reduce barriers that can help people who are looking to learn the languages.
“It could mean better coordination between federal and provincial programs so you can have a continuous language experience…When you’re in the federal language program, for example, once you become a citizen, you no longer qualify and you have to move into the provincial language programs and you get disconnected from the community of learning you were with and sometimes people delay their citizen applications until they get the language,” he said.
“It’s to our advantage to help to learn so they can contribute economically and socially and culturally to the whole community.”