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What Languages Do Canadians Speak?

Language Statistics From the 2011 Census of Canada

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Dateline: 10/31/12

The 2011 Census of Canada shows that while many Canadians are definitely bilingual, they are not necessarily speaking English and French. Statistics Canada reports that more than 200 languages that were not English, French or an Aboriginal language, were reported as a language spoken most often at home, or as a mother tongue. About two-thirds of the respondents who spoke one of these immigrant languages also spoke either English or French.

2011 Census Questions on Languages in Canada

Data on languages collected in the Census of Canada are used to implement and administer both federal and provincial acts, such as the federal Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the New Brunswick Official Languages Act.

Language statistics are also used by both public and private organizations which deal with issues such as health care, human resources, education and community services.

In the 2011 Census of Canada questionnaire, four questions on languages were asked.

  • Question 7: Can this person speak English or French well enough to conduct a conversation?

  • Question 8(a): What language does this person speak most often at home?

  • Question 8(b): Does this person speak any other languages on a regular basis at home?

  • Question 9: What is the language that this person first learned at home in childhood and still understands?

For further details on the questions, the changes between the 2006 Census and the 2011 Census and the methodology used, see Languages Reference Guide, 2011 Census from Statistics Canada.

Languages Spoken at Home in Canada

In the 2011 Census of Canada, the Canadian population of nearly 33.5 million reported more than 200 languages as their language spoken at home or their mother tongue. About a fifth of Canadians, or nearly 6.8 million people, reported having a mother tongue other than English or French, Canada's two official languages. About 17.5 percent or 5.8 million people reported that they spoke at least two languages at home. Only 6.2 percent of Canadians spoke a language other than English or French as their only language at home.

Official Languages in Canada

Canada has two official languages at the federal level of government: English and French. [In the 2011 Census, about 17.5 percent, or 5.8 million, reported that they were bilingual in English and French, in that they could conduct a conversation in both English and French.] That's a small increase of 350,000 over the 2006 Census of Canada, which Statistics Canada attributes to an increase in the number of Quebecers who reported being able to conduct a conversation in English and French. In provinces other than Quebec, the rate of English-French bilingualism dipped slightly.

About 58 percent of the population reported that their mother tongue was English. English was also the language most often spoken at home by 66 percent of the population.

About 22 percent of the population reported that their mother tongue was French, and French was the language most often spoken at home by 21 percent.

About 20.6 percent reported that a language other than English or French was their mother tongue. They also reported that they spoke English or French at home.

Diversity of Languages in Canada

In the 2011 Census, eighty percent of those who reported that they speak an immigrant language (not English, French or an Aboriginal language) most often at home live in one of the six largest major census metropolitan areas (CMAs) in Canada.

  • Toronto: About 1.8 million people in Toronto reported speaking an immigrant language most often at home. That's about 32.2 percent of the city's population and around 2.5 times as many as in Vancouver who reported speaking an immigrant language most often at home. The most common languages were Cantonese, Punjabi, Chinese (non-specified dialect), Urdu and Tamil.

  • Montreal: In Montreal about 626,000 reported speaking an immigrant language most often at home. Nearly a third spoke Arabic (17 percent) and Spanish (15 percent).

  • Vancouver: In Vancouver, 712,000 reported speaking an immigrant language most often at home. Punjabi led the list at 18 percent, followed by Cantonese, Chinese (non-specified dialect), Mandarin and Tagalog. The total accounts for 64.4 percent of the total population speaking one of these five languages most often at home.

  • Calgary: In Calgary, 228,000 people reported speaking an immigrant language most often at home. Punjabi (27,000 people), Tagalog (nearly 24,000), and Chinese (non-specified dialect) at nearly 21,000 were the languages most often reported.

  • Edmonton: In Edmonton, 166,000 reported speaking an immigrant language most often at home, with Punjabi, Tagalog, Chinese (non-specified dialect), Spanish and Cantonese accounting for about 47 percent of these people, a percentage quite similar to Calgary.

  • Ottawa and Gatineau: About 87 percent of the people in this census metropolitan area who reported speaking an immigrant language most often at home lived in Ottawa and Arabic, Chinese (non-specified dialect), Spanish and Mandarin were the leading immigrant home languages. In Gatineau, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese (non-specified dialect) were the leading home languages.

Aboriginal Languages in Canada

Aboriginal languages are diverse in Canada, but they are fairly thinly spread, with 213,500 people reporting having one of 60 Aboriginal languages as a mother tongue and 213,400 reporting that they speak an Aboriginal language most often or regularly at home.

Three Aboriginal languages - the Cree languages, Inuktitut and Ojibway - made up almost two-thirds of the responses from those reporting having an Aboriginal language as their mother tongue on the 2011 Census of Canada.

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