Quebec driving increase in Canada's bilingualism rate, census figures show

New census numbers for language in Canada show bilingualism is at an all-time high at 18 per cent nationwide. In Quebec, 45 per cent of people declared that they speak both official languages, up from 42.5 per cent in 2011.

45% of Quebecers declared they speak both official languages in 2016

The proportion of native French speakers in Quebec has gone down slightly, from 79.7 per cent of the population to 78.4 per cent. (Jean-Christophe/AFP/Getty Images)

More people in Canada are bilingual than ever before, and Quebec is driving that trend.

New census numbers for language in Canada show bilingualism is at an all-time high, at 18 per cent nationwide.

In Quebec, 45 per cent of people declared that they speak both official languages in 2016, up from 42.5 per cent in 2011. Most of the growth came from native French speakers.

In the rest of Canada, the bilingual rate is a mere 10 per cent, but it's growing. More people across the country are speaking both official languages.

"In the past, it was Quebec and francophone minorities who drove bilingualism in Canada," said Émilie Lavoie, a demographer for Statistics Canada. "But for the first time, other language groups are also contributing to it."

(2016 census, Statistics Canada)

French down, English up

The proportion of native French speakers in Quebec has gone down slightly, from 79.7 per cent of the population to 78.4 per cent. The share of people who speak French at home has also dropped.

However, knowledge of French in Quebec hasn't changed.

"The ability to have a conversation in French has remained stable," Lavoie said.

On the other hand, native English speakers edged up a tiny bit, from 9 to 9.6 per cent, likely due to immigration.

However, more Quebec allophones — people whose mother tongue is neither English nor French — speak French at home (48 per cent) than English (22 per cent).

And more Anglos are also speaking French at home: 27.6 per cent. Among francophones, only 9.5 per cent reported speaking a language other than French in the house.

Montreal's unique language mix 

Asian languages are the biggest non-official tongues in most of Canada's big cities: Cantonese, Mandarin, Punjabi and Tagalog are most spoken in immigrant homes in Toronto and Vancouver.

But in Montreal, Arabic, Spanish, Italian and Creole dominate, reflecting in part the Quebec government's preference for immigrants from countries where French is also spoken. Mandarin comes a distant fifth.

Only a small proportion of metropolitan Montreal's population, 13 per cent, reported a non-official language as their mother tongue. Compare that to Toronto, where 35.5 per cent of people speak a mother tongue other than English or French.

Quebecers most likely to be solo

Quebec stands out from the rest of Canada with the highest proportion of people living all by themselves. A full third of the population live alone, compared to 28.2 percent nationwide.

Quebec also has the second-highest percentage of common-law couples, at 40 per cent, following Nunavut's 50.3 per cent. The Canadian average is 15.7 per cent.

And only 2 per cent of Quebec homes are multi-generational. That's the smallest share of all the provinces and territories of generations living under the same roof.

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