The main non-official languages spoken in Canada

These are the main non-official languages spoken ​​in Canada

Did you know that more than 4 in 10 Canadians can have a conversation in more than one language? The 2021 Census found that the proportion of Canadians who could conduct a conversation in more than one language (41.2%) was up from 2016 (39.0%). This means that despite the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on arrivals to the country, immigration has continued to enrich Canada’s linguistic diversity.

In addition, the 2021 Census, found that more than half a million people speak predominantly Mandarin or Punjabi at home in Canada. Let’s explore the most widely spoken non-official languages ​​in this country.

The main non-official languages spoken predominantly at home in Canada

RankingLanguageNumber of people
1Mandarin530,945
2Punjabi520,390
3Yue (Cantonese)393,430
4Spanish317,365
5Arabic285,915
6Tagalog275,040
7Persian languages179,745
8Urdu158,040
9Russian125,780
10Korean125,525
Source: Statistics Canada

Mandarin and Punjabi remained the two languages -other than English and French- spoken predominantly by the largest number of Canadians in 2021. The number of Mandarin speakers grew from 2016 to 2021 (+15%). However, it was outpaced by the growth in the number of Punjabi speakers (+49%).

Of course, the rapid growth in the number of speakers of certain languages is mostly due to immigration. According to the Longitudinal Immigration Database, one-quarter of the permanent residents who arrived in Canada from May 2016 to December 2020 were born in a South Asian country. Moreover, one in five was born in India. During the same period, about 1 in 10 permanent residents who arrived in Canada were born in China or the Philippines, where Mandarin and Tagalog are spoken, respectively.

According to Statistics Canada, the situation was different for a number of European languages. For example, the number of Canadians who spoke predominantly Italian (-23,000), Polish (-10,000) or Greek (-6,000) at home fell from 2016 to 2021. 

Spanish and Arabic are the main non-official language spoken predominantly at home in Montréal

Canadians who spoke predominantly a language other than English or French at home were more likely to live in a large urban centre than other Canadians. In Toronto, for example, the distribution of the population who spoke predominantly a non-official language was:

  • Mandarin (13%), Yue (Cantonese) (11%), Punjabi (10%), Urdu (6%), and other languages (61%).

However, in Montréal, the main non-official languages spoken predominantly at home were:

  • Spanish (16%), Arabic (16%), Mandarin (8%), Italian (5%), and other languages (55%).

According to the report, each year, large urban centres are the destination of a significant proportion of immigrants who settle in Canada, which helps to increase the diversity of these centres.

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