The fourth wave of data from the 2021 Census was released by Statistics Canada this morning, covering the topic of language in Canada.
The Census measures a range of linguistic concepts including mother tongue, language most often spoken at home, other languages spoken regularly at home, knowledge of English and French and first official language spoken. There are additional data on languages used at work that will be reported as part of the labour data release in November 2022.
Mother tongue is defined as the language first learned and still understood.
English was reported as a single mother tongue by 54.9 percent of the population and a French single mother tongue was reported by 19.6 percent of the population; both down slightly from 2016.
A single mother tongue other than English or French was reported by 7.8 million people (21.4 percent), which represents a slight increase from 21.1 percent in 2016. A small but growing percent of the population (3.2 percent) reported multiple mother tongues, the majority being a combination of English and a language other than French.
The continuing increase in Canada's linguistic diversity reflects the nation’s growing immigrant population.
According to the 2021 Census, more than 200 languages were reported as a mother tongue and 18 languages had at least 100,000 people reporting a mother tongue. The most common mother tongues were Mandarin (679,000), Punjabi (667,00), Yue (Cantonese) (553,000) and Spanish (539,000).
Some mother tongues saw significant growth from 2016 to 2021. Among those reported by at least 100,000 people, Hindi (38 percent), Punjabi (33 percent), Gujarati (28 percent) and Spanish (28 percent) showed the largest increases, reflecting the high immigration from India in recent years. On the other hand, some European languages, in particular German, Italian and Polish reported large declines in mother tongue reporting. These trends reflect the aging of these immigrant groups.
Pictured above: Number of people (in the '000s) who speak a mother tongue other than English or French and the percentage change from 2016-2021.
A total of 189,000 people reported one of over 60 different Indigenous mother tongues. Seventeen of the Indigenous languages were reported by over 1,000 persons. The most common Indigenous mother tongues reported were Cree languages (53,000) and Inuktituk (33,000). However, these estimates are underestimates due to the incomplete enumeration of certain reserves and settlements in the Census of Population.
Many of those who report a mother tongue other than English or French, reported speaking English or French most often at home. Of the 7.9 million people with a mother tongue other than English or French, 2.8 million (35.1 percent) reported speaking only English or French most often at home. An additional 832.000 (10.5 percent) reported speaking English or French most often at home in combination with another language, generally their mother tongue. Over half (54% or 4.3 million) of those with a non-English or French mother tongue do not speak English or French most often at home.
However, 43 percent of those not speaking English or French most often at home, speak either English or French on a regular basis. Therefore, there are 2.5 million people, representing 6.7 percent of the total population that do not speak English or French at home.
Among the largest mother tongue groups where no English or French was spoken at home were Mandarin, Punjabi and Yue (Cantonese) speakers.
Pictured above: Number of people (in the '000s) who do not speak English or French at home (2021).
A total of 6.6 million Canadians (18 percent) reported being able to speak both English and French, the same percentage as in 2016. Among Francophones (French mother tongue), 47.6 percent were bilingual, compared to 9.0 percent of Anglophones and 11.5 percent of those with a mother tongue other than English or French.
Of all the provinces and territories, bilingualism was highest in Quebec (46.4 percent) and New Brunswick (34 percent). The bilingual rate increased in Quebec, up from 44.5 percent in 2016, but decreased in the rest of Canada.
In Quebec 67 percent of those with an English mother tongue were bilingual compared to 51 percent of those with a mother tongue other than English or French and 42 percent of those with a French mother tongue.
The CMAs with the highest level of bilingualism were Montreal (56.4 percent), Sherbrooke (46 percent), Moncton (45.9 percent), Ottawa-Gatineau (43.1 percent) and Quebec (41.5 percent).
Across Canada, 690,000 people (1.9 percent of the total population) reported not being able to speak either English or French. Of these, 44 percent were aged 65 or older. The number of people not able to speak English or French was up 6.3 percent from 2016 compared to an overall population increase of 5.2 percent.
Among the mother tongue groups of 100,000 or more, those with the highest percentage of non-English or French speakers were Yue (Cantonese) (20.6 percent). Mandarin (17.5 percent), Vietnamese (14.4 percent) and Punjabi (13.8 percent).
Although more detailed information on immigration, ethnicity and the cultural diversity of Canada will not be released until October, the latest language data are indications of the increasing cultural diversity of Canada.
The many languages spoken by Canadians and the large increases among some linguistic groups mean that marketers need to be aware of the need to use languages other than English or French in some communications. In particular, there were 2.5 million Canadians who do not speak English or French at home and reaching them may require communication in their mother tongue. A segmentation of the population by degree of acculturation will also help marketers to better pinpoint areas where third language communication would be effective.