Ethnicity, Language and Immigration Thematic Series
Immigration and language in Canada, 2011 and 2016

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by Brigitte Chavez

Release date: January 28, 2019

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This document was made possible thanks to the contribution of Jean-Pierre Corbeil and Jean-François Lepage of the Centre for Ethnocultural, Language and Immigration Statistics (CELIS) at Statistics Canada. The author would like to thank them for their involvement and their availability throughout this project. The author also thanks the many CELIS staff members involved in the conception and elaboration of the tables. Finally, the author wishes to thank Julie Bertrand, Isabelle Duncan, Shirley Li, Denis Theriault and Nathalie Villemure for their collaboration in finalizing the document.

This document was produced with the financial support from a consortium comprised of Canadian Heritage, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, Health Canada and the Department of Justice Canada.


This document focuses on immigration and language in Canada. It presents a general statistical portrait of immigrants by certain language characteristics and by their main countries of birth, using data from the 2011 National Household Survey and the 2016 Census of Population.

The main driver of Canada’s population growth is net international migration. Between 2011 and 2016, more than 1.2 million immigrants, or about 250,000 people per year, settled in Canada. In 2016, just over one fifth (21.9%) of the Canadian population was born outside Canada. In recent decades, the countries of origin of people immigrating to Canada have become increasingly diverse. Until the 1970s, immigrants came mainly from Western countries and Eastern Europe. Since then, growing numbers of people from Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa have settled in Canada.

Because the countries of origin of immigrants have become more diversified, Canada’s linguistic landscape has altered considerably. An increasing share of immigrants report a language other than English or French as their mother tongue or language spoken most often at home. In 2016, nearly three quarters (72.5%) of immigrants had a language other than English or French as their mother tongue, compared with 50.7% in 1971. Similarly, an increasing proportion of immigrants speak an “other” language most often at home. Specifically, 47.2% of people born outside Canada spoke an “other” language most often at home in 2016, while 52.8% spoke English or French at home.

In spite of the increased linguistic diversification of the immigrant population, the vast majority (93.2%) of immigrants reported knowing one or both of Canada’s official languages in 2016. These languages function as vectors of integration into Canadian society. In 2016, most immigrants were drawn to English: 82.5% had English as their first official language spoken (FOLS), 10.8% had French, and 6.8% had neither of these two languages. In contrast, in Quebec, close to two thirds (62.5%) of immigrants had French as their first official language spoken, while one third (33.1%) had English.

This document presents a descriptive analysis of recent and established immigrants in Canada, in Canada outside Quebec, in each province and territory, and in the six largest census metropolitan areas (CMAs) in the country, by certain linguistic characteristics and by their main countries of birth. This analysis comprises five sections. The first section presents statistics on immigrants’ first official language spoken. The second and third sections respectively address immigrants’ mother tongue and the language spoken most often at home. The fourth section provides statistics on their knowledge of the official languages (English and French) by mother tongue of the immigrant population. Lastly, the fifth section explores the main countries of birth of immigrants.

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