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Maria Aurella Sareal, right, speaks with Aletha Hernandez outside the Multicultural Helping House Society’s Newcomer Resource Centre in Vancouver on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012. Both women are Tagalog-speaking immigrants from the Philippines. (Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)
Maria Aurella Sareal, right, speaks with Aletha Hernandez outside the Multicultural Helping House Society’s Newcomer Resource Centre in Vancouver on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012. Both women are Tagalog-speaking immigrants from the Philippines. (Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)

Tagalog fastest-growing language in Canada, data show Add to ...

Philippines-based Tagalog is the fastest-growing language in Canada, with 64 per cent more Canadians calling it their first choice for conversations at home in 2011 compared with five years earlier.

Nearly 279,000 Canadians said they speak Tagalog more than other languages at home, according to Statistics Canada language data from the 2011 census. That’s up from about 170,000 in 2006 and makes the Filipino language the fifth most common non-official language spoken in Canadian households. Punjabi and Chinese languages are the most common.

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At the same time, the Philippines looks poised to play a greater role in Canadian foreign policy. In June, the federal government signed a memorandum of understanding with Manila to establish a joint commission for bilateral co-operation. And Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to visit the Philippines in mid-November after his week-long trip to India.

The trip is “mainly to talk about [how to] expand our economic co-operation,” Philippines ambassador Leslie Gatan said, adding his country’s government is eager to work with Canada on defence and agriculture, among other areas of interest.

The recent spike in the use of Tagalog at home closely matches broader immigration patterns that have seen the Philippines surpass both India and China and become the biggest source country for permanent residents in 2010 and 2011.

“The word has spread around that Canada is some kind of a promised land,” Mr. Gatan said in an interview. “Filipinos used to flock to America because the U.S. is our mother country, our former colonizer, but have discovered there’s a better pasture north of the United States.”

Economic growth in Western Canada has created a wealth of new opportunities for Filipinos, he said, and many new immigrants are travelling to Edmonton, Winnipeg and Regina for jobs. Tagalog is now the most common immigrant home language in Edmonton and the second most common in Calgary, after Punjabi.

British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba all signed memorandums of understanding with the Philippines in recent years in a bid to fill labour shortages in those provinces. “Western provinces are very aggressive,” Mr. Gatan said. “They go to the Philippines, they hold job fairs there and they recruit.”

Manitoba NDP MLA Ted Marcelino grew up in the Philippines and moved to Winnipeg in 1980 after a brief stay in Toronto. He said many of the newcomer Filipinos who choose Winnipeg have family members already living in the city who can help them adjust. “Those who are newcomers usually end up in the service industry at first, and they eventually proceed to their own line of work,” he said.

Vancouver has one of the largest Canadian populations of Tagalog speakers, with 47,600 reporting to Statistics Canada that it was their primary language at home in 2011. Maria Aurella Sareal, who moved to the city from the Philippines two years ago, said she and her husband consciously speak Tagalog around their six-year-old daughter so she won’t forget the language.

“As much as we can, we’re trying to keep our native language at home, especially for my daughter’s sake,” she said.

Last summer, the Philippines embassy held trial Tagalog classes in Ottawa, and Mr. Gatan said he hopes to expand the program to other cities next year in response to parents’ concerns that their children will forget how to speak the Filipino language.

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