Immigration drives rise of South Asian languages in Canada: census

Click to play video: 'Record number of Canadians’ first language is not English or French: StatCan'
Record number of Canadians’ first language is not English or French: StatCan
WATCH: Number of people who speak languages other than English and French growing at fast rate. Tom Vernon takes a look – Aug 17, 2022

Immigration is fuelling a rise in the number of Canadians who speak a language other than English or French, new Statistics Canada census data shows.

A record-breaking one-in-four people speak a language that’s different from Canada’s two official languages, the 2021 data reveals. Mandarin and Punjabi are the most common non-official languages, with more than a million people predominantly speaking one of them.

StatCan noted a large increase in the growth of the number of Canadians who predominantly speak South Asian languages such as Gujarati, Hindi or Malayalam since the last census in 2016, a rise which was fuelled by immigration.

“The results we released today show in large part that trends are continuing in Canada, so we see for instance the growth in number of people whose language is different than French and English, and it’s related to immigration,” said Éric Caron-Malenfant, deputy head of the Centre for Demography at Statistics Canada.

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“For instance in Canada in 2021, about one in four has a mother tongue that is different than French or English, so that is a continuation of this trend.”

Between 2016 and 2021, the number of Canadians who predominantly speak a non-official language at home rose 15 per cent to about 4.6 million, up from four million.

Aside from South Asian languages, other languages spoken predominantly at home that are on the rise include Turkish, Tagalog, Arabic, Spanish, Persian languages and Tigrigna, an East African language.

Roughly one-quarter of the permanent residents who arrived in Canada from May 2016 to December 2020 were born in a South Asian country, and one in five was born in India, StatCan said its Longitudinal Immigration Database shows.

Click to play video: 'Rise in multi-generational households: 2021 Census'
Rise in multi-generational households: 2021 Census

Furthermore, during the same period, about one in 10 permanent residents who arrived in Canada were born in China or the Philippines, where Mandarin and Tagalog are spoken, respectively.

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In terms of European languages, the number of Canadians who spoke predominantly Italian, Polish or Greek at home fell between 2016 and 2021. This decrease is primarily linked to the speakers of these languages aging, a significant proportion of whom immigrated to Canada before 1980, StatCan said. Also, there were relatively few immigrants from Italy, Poland or Greece who recently arrived in Canada.

Regardless of their mother tongue, most people in Canada access services in one of the two official languages.

English and French are still the most common languages spoken in Canada, and 90 per cent of Canadians speak at least one of them.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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