Mother tongue

Part A - Short definition:

Not applicable

Part B - Detailed definition:

Refers to the first language learned at home in childhood and still understood by the individual on May 10, 2011.

Reported in:


Reported for:

Population in private households

Question number(s):

Direct variable: Question 16


See Figures 1.7, 1.7A, 1.7B, 1.7C, 1.7D, 1.7E and 1.7F.

See Appendix 1.3: NHS classification of mother tongue, home language and language of work.


In the 2011 NHS, Question 16 asked 'What is the language that this person first learned at home in childhood and still understands?'

A note accompanying the question stated that:

If this person no longer understands the first language learned, indicate the second language learned.

As well, additional instructions were provided to respondents in the 2011 NHS Guide:

  • For a person who learned two languages at the same time in early childhood, report the language this person spoke most often at home before starting school. Report two languages only if both languages were used equally often and are still understood by this person.
  • For a child who has not yet learned to speak, report the language spoken most often to the child at home. Report two languages only if both languages are spoken equally often so that the child learns both languages at the same time.

The order of response options in language questions which have mark-ins for 'English' and 'French' is different depending on the language of the questionnaire. On English questionnaires, 'English' is listed before 'French.' On French questionnaires, 'French' is listed before English. In a similar way, the language of the questionnaire is the language mentioned first in the actual wording of the questions on knowledge of official and non-official languages.

For additional information on the collection and dissemination of data on language, refer to the Languages Reference Guide, National Household Survey, 2011.

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