Canada is one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world. While it has two official languages, English and French, there are over 400 other languages spoken in Canada. While the majority of Canadians speak English or French as their mother tongue, a quarter of Canadians speak a different mother tongue.

In this article, we explore the linguistic findings from the 2021 Census, ranging from the number of people who speak English or French at home to what other languages are spoken in Canada and what are the most common languages apart from the two official languages.

Language Diversity Statistics for Canadians

  • 12.7% of Canada’s population speak a language other than English or French at home.
  • 98.1% of Canadians speak at least one of the official languages in Canada.
  • Just over 20% of Canadians speak French as their first official language.
  • The proportion of people who speak French as their first official language fell by 1.5% in Quebec between 2016 and 2021.
  • Almost half of Quebec’s population can speak French and English equally well.
  • Over 40% of Canadians can have a conversation in more than one language.
  • Over 200 mother tongues are spoken in Canada and Mandarin is the most common after English and French.
  • The number of people who speak Hindi as their mother tongue increased by 38% between 2016 and 2021.
  • Many European languages are spoken by fewer Canadians as their mother tongue.
  • Indigenous peoples in Canada speak over 70 Indigenous languages but many are spoken by less than 500 people.
  • Cree languages, with 86,480, are the most common Indigenous languages in Canada.

Canada’s Diverse Linguistic Landscape

The proportion of the Canadian population who speak a different language than English or French at home has been growing over the last few decades. In 2021, 4.6 million people in Canada spoke another language at home- This accounts for 12.7% of the population compared to 7.7% in 1991.

The number of Canadians who learn more than one mother tongue has also been on the rise. In 2021, 4% of Canadians spoke two or more mother tongues. The majority of Canadians speak only one language at home, with 81.3% reporting having only one language they regularly speak at home. The remaining 18.7% regularly speak at least two languages at home.

English is the Dominant Official Language

Most people living in Canada speak either English or French. 98.1% of Canada’s population spoke at least one of these languages well enough to have a conversation in 2021. English or French was spoken by 92.9% of Canadians regularly at home.

English was spoken at home regularly by 74.2% of Canadians and was the mother tongue for 54.9% of the population. The number of Canadians who have English as their first language grew from 26 million to 27.6 million between 2016 and 2021.

Immigration has contributed to the increase in people who speak English as their first language with 80.6% of immigrants reporting they speak English as their first language. Only 6% of newcomers to Canada said their first language was French.

The Proportion of French Speakers Is Falling

The percentage of Canadians who have French as their first official language fell between 2016 and 2021 from 22.2% to 21.4%. However, despite the smaller proportion, the number of people who spoke French as their first official language grew from 7.7 million in 2016 to 7.8 million in 2021.

This trend has been observed in Canada for several decades now. For example, in 1971 the proportion of Canadians whose first language was French was 27.2%. This is because, while the number of French speakers continues to grow, the number of people who speak a language other than French continues to grow faster.

The proportion of Canadians who speak French as their mother tongue has also decreased. It fell from 20.6% to 19.6% between the last two censuses. However, the number of people who spoke French as their mother tongue increased by 22,000.

Fewer People in Quebec Speak French Since 2001

French is still the main language in Quebec but the proportion of people who speak French at home fell from 79% to 77.5% between 2016 and 2021. However, the proportion of people who spoke French most often at home in addition to another language rose from 3.3% to 3.5%.

Despite decreasing proportions, in most of Quebec’s seventeen regions, French is still spoken by over 90% as the first official language. For example, in Bas-Saint-Laurent, 99.1% of the population speaks French as their first official language. Nord-du-Québec has one of the lowest French-speaking populations with only 31.1% speaking French as their official language.

Quebec Has the Highest Proportion of English-French Bilinguals

While Quebec is predominantly French with 85.4% of the population speaking French as their first official language, it also has the highest proportion of people who can speak English and French equally well. In 2021, 44.5% of the province’s population spoke both official languages. Quebec was followed by New Brunswick with 33.9% and Yukon with 13.8%. The lowest proportions of bilingual people were in Nunavut at 4.3% and Newfoundland and Labrador at 5%.

Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan, and Alberta have the highest proportions of English speakers at 99.4%, 98%, and 96.6% respectively. The highest proportion of French speakers outside Quebec is in New Brunswick with 31.8%. In the rest of the provinces and territories, less than 5% of the population speaks French as their first official language.

Over 40% of Canadians Speak More Than One Language

In 2021, 41.2% of Canadians reported that they speak more than one language well enough to have a conversation. In 2021, the percentage was 39%, indicating that the number of Canadians who know more than one language is rising. In addition, the data from the 2021 census shows that 32.1% of Canadians are bilingual, 7.6% are trilingual, and 1.5% can speak four or more languages well enough to conduct a conversation.

Nunavut has the highest proportion of bilingualism when considering all language combinations, not only the official languages. 68% of Nunavut’s population is bilingual with Inuktitut-English being the most common language combination. Quebec has the highest rate of trilingual people at 12.2%, going up to nearly 20% in Montréal.

Montréal also has the highest proportion of people who can speak at least two languages at 69.8%. It is followed by Ottawa–Gatineau and Toronto with 60% and 56.1%, respectively.

There Are Over 200 Mother Tongues Spoken in Canada

The growing immigrant population in Canada has increased the linguistic diversity in the country. According to the 2021 census, over 200 different mother tongues are spoken in Canada, and at least 100,000 people as their mother tongue spoke eighteen languages.

The most common mother tongue other than French or English was Mandarin which was the mother tongue for 679,000 Canadians. It was followed by Punjabi with 667,000 speakers, Yue (Cantonese) with 553,000, and Spanish with 539,000.

Indian Languages Are Becoming More Common in Canada

Between the 2016 and 2021 censuses, the number of people who spoke Hindi, Punjabi, or Gujarati as their mother tongue increased the most. The number of Hindi speakers increased by 38% to 153,000, the number of Punjabi speakers by 33% to 667,000, and the number of Gujarati speakers by 28% to 139,000. The number of Spanish speakers also increased by 28% to 539,000.

Many European Languages Spoken Less in Canada

While the number of people speaking Asian languages has been on the rise in Canada, the number of people speaking many European languages as their mother tongue is declining. The number of people who reported Italian as their mother tongue fell by 23,000, Polish by 10,000, and Greek by 6,000 between the last two census years.

The decline in these languages is linked to fewer recent immigrants from these countries to Canada. It is also linked to the aging population of immigrants from these countries. The majority of whom arrived in Canada before 1980.

Almost 70% of People with a Different Mother Tongue Still Speak English or French at Home

The 2021 census found that people who have a different mother tongue than English or French still use the official languages at home. 68.8% of people with a different mother tongue use one of the official languages at home regularly. This shows that the majority of immigrants are adopting English or French as their everyday language.

Indigenous Languages in Canada

Indigenous languages are spoken by over 180,000 people in Canada regularly at home. The Indigenous Languages Act states that keeping Indigenous languages alive is important to the cultures, identities, and self-determination of Indigenous peoples. The act aims to maintain, revitalise, and strengthen the status of Indigenous languages.

The Indigenous peoples in Canada speak over 70 different Indigenous languages. However, many of these are in danger of disappearing as they are not effectively transferred to future generations. More than 20 of these languages were spoken by 500 or fewer people as their mother tongue and the median age of the speakers was 60 years and older. For example, Gwich’in was only spoken by 275 people in 2021.

Cree Languages Are the Most Common Indigenous Languages Spoken in Canada

Based on the findings of the 2021 census, 86,480 people speak one of the Cree languages. 60,160 of these speakers spoke Cree with no further specifications, while the remaining speakers spoke one of the several Cree dialects.

Cree is most commonly spoken by First Nations people with 80,175 people. It is also the most common Indigenous language among Métis with 4,650 Cree speakers. After Cree languages, the most common Indigenous language is Inuktut, which is spoken by 39,620 Inuit. The third most common Indigenous language is Ojibway with 24,255 speakers.

Quebec Has the Largest Population of People Speaking an Indigenous Language

In 2021, one-quarter of people who speak an Indigenous language lived in Quebec. The province had 45,600 speakers of Indigenous languages. Other regions with a significant number of people speaking indigenous languages included Saskatchewan with 27,500, Manitoba with 26,500, Alberta with 24,600, and Nunavut with 23,000.

Conclusion

Canada has always been a popular destination for immigrants which has created the country’s diverse linguistic landscape. According to the 2021 census, over 200 languages other than English or French are spoken as a mother tongue in Canada. There are also over 70 Indigenous languages spoken in Canada by the Indigenous peoples.

With immigration from Asia increasing in Canada, languages such as Hindi and Punjabi are growing the fastest, while many European languages, including Italian and Polish, are becoming less common. However, as Canada continues to attract immigrants from all over the world, it is likely that the number of languages spoken by Canadians will increase even further in the future.

Frequently Asked Questions

There are two official languages in Canada, which are English and French but several more languages are spoken in Canada. The data from the 2021 Canadian census shows that over 200 different languages are spoken in Canada as the mother tongue.

Yes, Canada does have two official languages which are English and French. However, only one province in Canada is officially bilingual and that is New Brunswick. Quebec is the only province that has French as the official language.

The most common language spoken in Canada after English and French is Mandarin. In 2021, it was recorded as the mother tongue by 679,000 people. The next most common languages are Punjabi, Yue (Cantonese), and Spanish with 667,000, 553,000, and 539,000 speakers, respectively.

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