The Statistics Canada report found that 4.6 million Canadians predominately speak a language other than English and French at home. In particular, 1 in 4 Canadians in 2021, or 9 million people, had a mother tongue other than English and French. This is a record high since 1901, when Statistics Canada began to include data on mother tongues.
Granted, English and French remain the most commonly spoken languages in Canada. More than 9 in 10 Canadians speak one of the two official languages at home on a regular basis.
While the Canadian population grew 5.2% from 2016 to 2021, the number of Canadians who spoke a South Asian language at home grew much faster, particularly speakers of Malayalam (+129%), Hindi, (+66%), Punjabi (+49%) and Gujarati (+43%). In fact, the growth rate of the number of speakers of South Asian languages was at least eight times larger than that of the entire Canadian population.
This growth is largely due to immigration, with one quarter of the permanent residents who arrived in Canada between 2016 and 2020 were brown in a South Asian country, and 1 in 5 were born in India.
Notwithstanding English and French, Mandarin and Punjabi were Canada’s most widely spoken languages. In 2021, more than half a million Canadians spoke predominately Mandarin at home and more than half a million spoke Punjabi.
At the same time, there was a decline in the number of Canadians who spoke predominately European languages at home. This decrease is primarily linked to the speakers of these languages aging, a significant proportion of whom immigrated to Canada before 1980. In addition, there are relatively few immigrations from Italy, Poland or Greece who have recently arrived in Canada.