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2006 Census: The Evolving Linguistic Portrait, 2006 Census: Highlights

Canada has two official languages, English and French. Their status is entrenched in the country's history, conferring rights and institutional support for Anglophones and Francophones.

While the number of people in Canada whose mother tongue is neither English nor French has increased substantially since the mid-1980s, they tend to adopt one of the two official languages as their home language with increasing length of stay in Canada.

According to the 2006 Census, 98% of the population can speak one or both official languages. In addition, English or French is spoken at least regularly at home by 94% of Canadians. English or French is spoken most often at home for 89% of the population, sometimes in combination with a non-official language.

On the other hand, only 80% of the population report English and French as their mother tongue (58% and 22% respectively). The remaining 20% have a mother tongue other than English or French. (These include Aboriginal languages, which will be featured in the 2006 Census analytical document on Aboriginal peoples to be released on January 15, 2008.) The Chinese languages1 are the third largest mother tongue group, as 3% of the population reported a Chinese language as their mother tongue.

Due to increased immigration since the mid-1980s, and the tendency of most immigrants to have a mother tongue other than English or French, the share of the allophone population has grown rapidly: from 13% in 1986 to 17% in 1996 and to 20% in 2006.

Anglophones and Francophones

According to the 2006 Census, there were 18,056,000 Anglophones, up 3.0% from 2001, and about 6,892,000 Francophones, just 1.6% more than in the previous census. For both groups, the increase was slightly larger than the growth observed in the preceding five-year period.

Anglophones still make up the majority of the population. While the number of Anglophones continued to increase, their share of the Canadian population dropped from 59.1% in 2001 to 57.8% in 2006. The same is true for Francophones. Their share of the population declined from 22.9% in 2001 to 22.1% in 2006. The decrease is largely attributable to the rapid growth of the immigrant population, more so for Anglophones than for Francophones.

Table 1 Population by mother tongue, Canada, 1996 to 2006

The proportion of people who speak French most often at home has been falling steadily, from 26% in 1971 to 21% in 2006, while the corresponding proportion for English was 67% in 2006, the same level as in 1971. It had peaked at 69% in 1986, just prior to a significant increase in allophone immigrants to Canada.

These trends were observed in every province, except in Quebec. For Quebec, the proportion of people using English most often at home declined from 14.7% in 1971 to 10.5% in 2001 and then stabilized at 10.6% in 2006. Conversely, the proportion of people reporting French as their main language at home rose from 81% in 1971 to 83% in 2001 and declined to 82% in 2006. This situation is due to the high levels of recent immigration and the slowdown in net losses of Anglophones in migration exchanges with the rest of Canada.


In the 2006 Census, there were 6,293,000 allophones, an increase of 958,000, or 18%, since 2001. Of the 1.1 million immigrants who settled in Canada between 2001 and 2006, 901,300 (80%) were allophones.

Canadians reported more than 200 languages in response to the census question on mother tongue. These include languages associated with traditional immigration, such as German, Italian, Ukrainian and Dutch, and languages which characterize more recent immigration, particularly those spoken in Asia and Latin America, which showed the largest gains.

Among the latter languages are the Chinese languages, Punjabi, Spanish, Arabic, Tagalog and Urdu. More than a million people (1,034,000) reported a Chinese language as their mother tongue. This is an increase of almost 162,000, or 18.5%, since 2001. People with a Chinese language as their mother tongue made up 3.3% of the population, compared with 2.9% five years earlier. Punjabi was the fourth most frequently reported mother tongue and its rate was up 34% from 2001. Of the 10 largest allophone groups in Canada, Urdu experienced the highest growth rate since 2001, increasing by 80%, from 87,000 in 2001 to 156,000 in 2006.

Of the three largest census metropolitan areas (CMAs), Toronto has the highest proportion of allophones. More than four residents in 10 (44%) have a mother tongue other than English or French. Similarly, just over four out of 10 residents (41%) of the Vancouver census metropolitan area are allophones. The Montréal CMA has proportionally far fewer allophones (22%).


The proportion of Canadians reporting being able to conduct a conversation in English and French was 17.4% in 2006. For Anglophones, almost seven in 10 (68.9%) living in Quebec are bilingual, while this is the case for 7.5% of those living outside Quebec. For Francophones, the rate of bilingualism is 35.8% in Quebec and 83.6% for those living outside Quebec.

Canada. Percentage of population having knowledge of English and French by 2006 Census Divisions (CDs)


  1. In the 2006 Census, 'Chinese languages' were broken down into seven major languages: Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka, Taiwanese, Chaochow (Teochow), Fukien and Shanghainese, as well as a residual category (Chinese languages not otherwise specified).

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