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Bilingualism and Multilingualism on the Rise in Canada

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Multilingualism on the Rise

Bilingualism and Multilingualism on the Rise in Canada: Insights from the 2021 Census

Canada, renowned for its cultural diversity, is witnessing a significant shift in its linguistic landscape. The 2021 census data reveals a fascinating trend: the rise of bilingualism and multilingualism among Canadians. Let’s explore into these changes, highlighting the growth of bilingual and multilingual speakers in the country.

Bilingualism Holds Steady

The 2021 census data shows that the proportion of bilingual English-French Canadians remained virtually unchanged at 18.0%. However, a closer look at the regional data reveals an interesting dynamic. The bilingualism rate in Quebec increased from 44.5% to 46.4% from 2016 to 2021, offsetting a decrease observed outside Quebec, where the rate fell from 9.8% to 9.5%. This suggests that while bilingualism is holding steady at the national level, there are regional variations in its growth.

Multilingualism on the Rise

The ability to converse in more than one language is becoming increasingly common in Canada. The proportion of Canadians who could conduct a conversation in more than one language rose from 39.0% in 2016 to 41.2% in 2021. This increase in multilingualism is a testament to Canada’s cultural diversity and the influence of immigration to Canada on the country’s linguistic landscape.

Even more impressive is the rise in the number of Canadians who can speak three or more languages. In 2021, one in eleven Canadians reported being able to converse in three or more languages, highlighting the growing linguistic diversity in the country.

English Dominates, French Holds Steady

English continues to be the first official language spoken by the majority of Canadians, with the proportion increasing from 74.8% in 2016 to 75.5% in 2021. This growth is partly attributed to immigration, as most immigrants tend to adopt English after arriving in Canada. In fact, 80.6% of Canadians with a mother tongue other than English or French (non-official languages) reported English as their first official language spoken in 2021.

On the other hand, French, while spoken by an increasing number of Canadians, saw a slight decrease in its proportion from 22.2% in 2016 to 21.4% in 2021. This trend is largely due to the overall population growth outpacing the increase in French speakers. However, the number of Canadians who predominantly spoke French at home saw an increase in Quebec, British Columbia, and Yukon, indicating a regional growth of the French language.

The Influence of Non-Official Languages

The rise in multilingualism in Canada is not limited to the country’s two official languages, English and French. In 2021, one in four Canadians reported having at least one mother tongue other than English or French. Furthermore, one in eight Canadians predominantly spoke a language other than English or French at home—both the highest proportions on record.

The growth of non-official languages is largely driven by immigration. South Asian languages such as Gujarati, Punjabi, Hindi, and Malayalam saw significant growth from 2016 to 2021. In contrast, the number of Canadians predominantly speaking certain European languages like Italian, Polish, and Greek at home declined.

The 2021 census data paints a picture of a linguistically diverse and evolving Canada. While English and French continue to be the dominant languages, the rise of bilingualism and multilingualism, particularly the growth of non-official languages, underscores the country’s rich cultural tapestry. As Canada continues to welcome immigrants from around the world, it will be interesting to see how these linguistic trends evolve in the future.

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