• Fri
  • Dec 26, 2014
  • Updated: 1:46am

Canada's bilingual population on decline for first time in 50 years

Total of English and French speakers in Canada drops for the first time in 50 years to 17.5pc

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 May, 2013, 4:55am

The bilingual English-French portion of Canada's population is on the decline, as the number of immigrants whose first language is neither English nor French grows, the country's statistics agency said.

Statistics Canada reported that English-French bilingualism declined over the past decade to 17.5 per cent of Canada's population, down from 17.7 per cent.

It was the first drop in the five decades that the government has tracked the statistic.

English and French are Canada's official languages. In 1969, the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau passed the Official Languages Act, making government services available in both languages across Canada.

The agency noted that outside of French-speaking Quebec, the proportion of primary and secondary school students enrolled in French courses has declined, while the number of immigrants whose mother tongue was neither English nor French has increased.

"Canada as a country welcomes 250,000 immigrants every year and it is impossible to maintain the same level of French-English bilingualism when you are welcoming that number of newcomers every year," Canada's commissioner of official languages Graham Fraser said on Wednesday.

The English-French bilingualism rate was 12.2 per cent in 1961 and peaked at 17.7 per cent in 2001, according to Statistics Canada.

However, in the last decade, the total population increased faster than the bilingual population for the first time since 1961.

While the total number of bilingual Canadians increased from 5.2 million in 2001 to 5.8 million in 2011, their share as a percentage of the population declined slightly. Quebec recorded the largest increase in the number of bilingual English-French speakers.

In 2011, 42.6 per cent of Quebec residents reported that they were fluent in English and in French. This compared with 40.8 per cent in 2001 and 25.5 per cent in 1961.

The report also noted that immigrants contributed to the growth of bilingualism in Quebec, unlike in the rest of Canada.

Only 42 per cent of native-born Quebec residents spoke English and French, but 51 per cent of immigrants spoke both languages. According to Statistic Canada's 2011 National Household Survey of almost 3 million people, Canada is home to 6.8 million foreign-born residents.

That is 20.6 per cent of the population, compared with 19.8 per cent in 2006.

The report said Asia, including the Middle East, was Canada's largest source of immigrants during the past five years, though the share of immigration from Africa, the Caribbean and Central and South America also increased slightly.

In 2011, the list of the top source countries for new permanent residents of Canada was headed by the Philippines (34,991 admissions).

Then came China (28,696) and India (24,965).

Statistics Canada's The Evolution of English-French Bilingualism in Canada from 1961 to 2011 report, released on Tuesday, was put together from mandatory censuses from 1961 to 2011.

The agency also noted that it used data from the 2011 National Household Survey on immigrant status, age, knowledge of official languages and mother tongue.


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