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The Globe and Mail

Everything you need to know about the language breakdown in Canada

Instructor Nathan Brinklow writes in Mohawk as he teaches a Adult Language Immersion Program on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in Ontario, on October 11, 2012.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

There is a rich diversity of languages spoken in Canada. In the 2011 census, more than 200 languages were reported as a home language or mother tongue.

In 2011, 17.5 per cent of Canada reported speaking at least two languages at home. More than 11 per cent reported speaking English and a language other than French at home.

(Infographics: check out the highlights of the census)

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More than 40 per cent of the immigrant-language population in Canada have a mother tongue of European origin, according to the census. People with one of the various Asian languages as their mother tongue comprise 56 per cent.

The number of people who reported speaking Tagalog, a Philippine-based language, most often at home increased the most – more than 64 per cent – between 2006 and 2011. Nearly 279,000 people reported speaking this language at home in 2011.

The growth of English-French bilingualism in Canada has increased slightly, by one tenth of a percentage point in the last five years. In Quebec, the English-French bilingualism rate increased two percentage points from 2006 to 2011. In the other provinces, bilingualism declined slightly.

In Quebec, the proportion of the population that reported speaking only French at home decreased from 75.1 per cent to 72.8 per cent between 2006 and 2011. In the rest of Canada, the proportion of the population that reported speaking only English at home declined from 77.1 per cent 74.1 per cent during the same period. In Montreal, the use of French as the only language at home continued the decrease that began in 2001. The same was true for the sole use of English in Toronto and Vancouver.

Nearly 214,000 people reported an aboriginal mother tongue and roughly the same number reported speaking an aboriginal language most often regularly at home. The aboriginal language family with the largest number of people was Algonquian. The Algonquian languages most often reported as mother tongues were: Cree, Ojibway, Innu/Montagnias and Oji-Cree. The Inuit and Athapaskan languages were the second and third language families with the largest populations.


Roughly 9 in 10 Canadians who speak an immigrant language at home live in a city. Most of them, 80 per cent, live in Canada's major cities. Here's a breakdown:

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Toronto: The five immigrant languages that dominate

About 1.8 million people reported speaking an immigrant language most often at home in Toronto. About one-third spoke one of five languages: Cantonese (8.8 per cent); Punjabi (8 per cent); Chinese (7 per cent); Urdu (5.9 per cent) and Tamil (5.7 per cent).

Montreal: The highest population of Arabic speakers

In Montreal, more than 600,000 people reported speaking an immigrant language at home. Of these, 17 per cent spoke Arabic and 15 per cent spoke Spanish. Among Canada's cities, Montreal had the largest population of speakers of these two languages.

Vancouver: Punjabi in the house, but Chinese a big factor

In Vancouver, 712,000 people reported speaking an immigrant language at home. Of these, nearly 18 per cent spoke Punjabi. Chinese languages accounted for 40 per cent of the population of Vancouver having an immigrant language as their home language.

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Calgary and Edmonton: Tagalog and Punjabi top immigrant home languages

More than 200,000 people reported speaking an immigrant language at home in Calgary. Edmonton had a smaller population of people speaking an immigrant language at home (more than 160,000, but was similar to Calgary in the languages spoken). While the order differed, the five leading immigrant home languages were: Punjabi, Tagalog, Chinese and Spanish accounted for 47 per cent of immigrant languages in Calgary, compared with 45 per cent in Edmonton.

Ottawa-Gatineau: Arabic a leading language at home

In Ottawa-Gatineau, 114,000 people reported speaking an immigrant language at home. The majority, 87 per cent, of this population lived in Ontario and about 13 per cent lived in the Quebec portion. On the Ontario side, Arabic, Chinese and Spanish were the leading immigrant home languages. On the Quebec side, Arabic once again led.

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