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Census in Brief
English–French bilingualism reaches new heights
The letter C inside a yellow triangle - correction Update of the 2016 Census language data

Release date: August 2, 2017 Updated on: August 31, 2017

Highlights

  • In 2016, the English–French bilingualism rate in Canada reached the highest proportion ever at 17.9%.
  • Bilingualism increased in most provinces and territories.
  • Over 60% of the growth of the bilingual population is attributable to Quebec.
  • Contrary to what was observed between 2006 and 2011, all mother tongue groups contributed to the growth of the bilingual population between 2011 and 2016.
  • There was an increase in the bilingualism rate for each age category of the school‑age population with English as a mother tongue between 2011 and 2016.

Introduction

English and French are the two official languages of Canada. This linguistic duality is an important aspect of the Canadian Confederation, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Since 1901, the Canadian Census of Population has been measuring the ability to conduct a conversation in English and French.Note 1

Since the first Official Languages Act was passed in 1969, the English–French bilingualism rate has seen constant growth in Canada, rising from 12.2% in 1961 to 17.7% in 2001. However, it seems to have levelled off since then. In 2006 (17.4%) and in 2011 (17.5%), the bilingualism rate remained more or less stable, slightly below the threshold reached in 2001.

Between 2011 and 2016, the English–French bilingualism rate rose from 17.5% to 17.9%, an increase of 0.4 percentage points. This is the highest proportion ever for English–French bilingualism in Canadian history.

Chart 1 English–French bilingualism rate, Canada, 1961 to 2016

Data table for Chart 1
Data table for Chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1. The information is grouped by Year (appearing as row headers), percent, calculated using 12.8, 14.4 and 15.8 units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Year percent
1961 12.2
1971 13.4
1981 15.3
1991 16.3
1996 17.0
2001 17.7
2006 17.4
2011 17.5
2016 17.9

Increase in the bilingualism rate in most provinces and territories

In 2016, the bilingualism rate increased in most of the provinces and territories, though several of these increases were very small. The provinces and territories that saw the biggest increases are Quebec, the Northwest Territories, New Brunswick and Yukon.

The bilingualism rates remained practically unchanged in Manitoba (8.6%), Alberta (6.6%) and British Columbia (6.8%).

Table 1
English–French bilingualism rate, Canada, provinces and territories, and Canada outside Quebec, 2011 and 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of English–French bilingualism rate 2016, 2011 and Difference, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
2011 2016 Difference
percent
Canada 17.5 17.9 0.4
Newfoundland and Labrador 4.6 5.0 0.4
Prince Edward Island 12.3 12.6 0.3
Nova Scotia 10.3 10.5 0.2
New Brunswick 33.2 33.9 0.7
Quebec 42.6 44.5 1.9
Ontario 11.0 11.2 0.2
Manitoba 8.6 8.6 0.0
Saskatchewan 4.6 4.7 0.1
Alberta 6.5 6.6 0.1
British Columbia 6.8 6.8 0.0
Yukon 13.1 13.8 0.7
Northwest Territories 9.1 10.3 1.2
Nunavut 3.8 4.3 0.5
Canada outside Quebec 9.7 9.8 0.1

These recent trends contrast with the trends from the previous period. Between 2006 and 2011, the bilingualism rate had declined in every province except Quebec. The only other increases in the English–French bilingualism rate in Canada had been observed in Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

In 2016, the provinces and territories that posted bilingualism rates above 10.0% were Quebec (44.5%), New Brunswick (33.9%), Yukon (13.8%), Prince Edward Island (12.6%), Ontario (11.2%), Nova Scotia (10.5%) and the Northwest Territories (10.3%).

Geographic concentration of bilingual people

Bilingual people were largely concentrated in Quebec and in the neighbouring regions of New Brunswick and Ontario. In 2016, these three provinces comprised 85.7% of Canada’s bilingual population, a similar proportion to 2011 (85.8%). By comparison, these provinces comprised 63.6% of the Canadian population in 2016.

However, most bilingual people live in Quebec. In 2016, Quebec was the province of residence of 57.7% of English–French bilingual people in Canada. In 2011, this proportion was 57.4%.

The growth of English–French bilingualism comes mostly from Quebec

In Canada, the number of bilingual people rose from 5.8 million in 2011 to 6.2 million in 2016, an increase of 420,495 people. Proportionally speaking, this population grew by 7.3% between 2011 and 2016, which is greater than the growth of the entire population (5.0%).

In Quebec, there were almost 3.6 million bilingual people in 2016. This is an increase of 7.7%, or close to 260,000 people, compared with 2011. This represents 61.3% of the total growth of the bilingual population in Canada.

Table 2
Bilingual population (English–French), Canada, Quebec, and Canada outside Quebec, 2011 and 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Bilingual population (English–French) 2011, 2016, Difference and Growth from 2011 to 2016, calculated using number and percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
2011 2016 Difference Growth from 2011 to 2016
number percent
Newfoundland and Labrador 23,450 25,940 2,490 10.6
Prince Edward Island 17,005 17,835 830 4.9
Nova Scotia 93,440 95,380 1,940 2.1
New Brunswick 245,890 249,955 4,065 1.7
Quebec 3,328,725 3,586,405 257,680 7.7
Ontario 1,395,805 1,490,390 94,585 6.8
Manitoba 103,145 108,455 5,310 5.1
Saskatchewan 46,570 51,360 4,790 10.3
Alberta 235,565 264,715 29,150 12.4
British Columbia 296,645 314,925 18,280 6.2
Yukon 4,415 4,900 485 11.1
Northwest Territories 3,715 4,275 560 14.9
Nunavut 1,200 1,525 325 27.1
Canada outside Quebec 2,466,850 2,629,665 162,815 6.6
Canada 5,795,575 6,216,070 420,495 7.3

In 2016, there were 94,585 more bilingual people in Ontario than in 2011, an increase of 6.8%.

The bilingual population of New Brunswick increased 1.7% over the same period, the smallest growth of all the provinces and territories.

In relative terms, the provinces with the largest increases in their bilingual population are Alberta (12.4%), Newfoundland and Labrador (10.6%) and Saskatchewan (10.3%). Relatively significant increases were also observed in Yukon (11.1%), the Northwest Territories (14.9%) and Nunavut (27.1%). Therefore, the English–French bilingual population rose from 9,330 people in 2011 to 10,700 people in 2016 in all the Canadian territories.

The majority of bilingual people have French as their mother tongue

In 2016, people with French as their mother tongue (single responses) represented 53.2% of the English–French bilingual population in Canada, and had a bilingualism rate of 46.2%, up almost 2 percentage points from 2011 (44.4%).

In 2016, the bilingualism rate for people with an other mother tongueNote 2 was 11.7%, a proportion that has not changed since 2011.

For people with English as their mother tongue, the bilingualism rate was 9.2% in 2016. This is an increase of 0.3 percentage points over 2011 (8.9%).

All mother tongue groups contribute to the growth of bilingualism

Between 2006 and 2011, the increase in English–French bilingualism in Canada was primarily attributable to people with French as their mother tongue. Moreover, the increase in bilingualism was largely concentrated in Quebec.

Quebec was still the main driver of bilingualism growth in Canada between 2011 and 2016. However, the portion of the growth attributable to the other provinces and territories increased from 10.3% between 2006 and 2011 to 38.7% between 2011 and 2016. All mother tongue groups also contributed to the growth of bilingualism.

In 2016, the population with English as its mother tongue (single responses) had 104,240 more bilingual people than in 2011. This equals 24.8% of the growth of the bilingual population in Canada during this period. There were 176,255 more bilingual people in the French‑mother‑tongue population (41.9% of the growth in the bilingual population), and 90,530 more bilingual people in the other‑mother‑tongue population (21.5% of the growth in the bilingual population). The remainder of the growth in bilingualism is attributable to people who reported more than one mother tongue.

In Quebec, 65.3% of the growth in the number of bilingual people is on account of the population with French as its mother tongue (single responses). This represents an increase of 168,215 people.

Between 2011 and 2016, an increase of 7,445 bilingual people was observed in the English‑mother‑tongue population in Quebec, and an increase of 59,455 bilingual people was observed in the other‑mother‑tongue population in Quebec.

Two‑thirds of the growth in English–French bilingualism among the other mother tongue population comes from Quebec, compared with 7.1% for the population with English as its mother tongue.

Outside Quebec, the English–French bilingual population rose 6.6% between 2011 and 2016, to 2.6 million people, or almost 163,000 more bilingual people than in 2011. Specifically, 4.9% of the growth in the bilingual population is attributable to people with French as their mother tongue (8,040 people), compared with 19.1% for people with an other mother tongue (31,075 people) and 16.5% for people with multiple mother tongues (26,920 people).

The bilingual population with English as its mother tongue increased by 96,795 people in Canada outside Quebec between 2011 and 2016. This represents 59.5% of the growth of the bilingual population. This is a significant change compared with the previous period. Between 2006 and 2011, the number of bilingual people with English as their mother tongue decreased slightly in Canada outside Quebec.

Growth of English–French bilingualism among school‑age people with English as their mother tongue

In Canada outside Quebec, people with English as their mother tongue who develop the ability to conduct a conversation in French generally do so in school, when they are between 5 and 19 years of age. Bilingualism rates then gradually decline from one age group to the next.

Between 2011 and 2016, the bilingualism rate rose in each age category for the school‑age population with English as its mother tongue. The bilingualism rate has risen among the 5‑to‑9 and 10‑to‑14 age groups with English as their mother tongue since at least 2001, but has declined until 2011 in each census for people aged 15 to 19 years.

These conflicting trends have changed the age when English–French bilingualism peaks among people with English as their mother tongue in Canada outside Quebec. Since 2011, the English–French bilingualism rate has been the highest among the population aged 10 to 14 years. In 2016, its rate was 14.9%.

In the past, bilingualism peaked among youth aged 15 to 19. In 2016, the bilingualism rate of this group rose to 13.5%. For the first time since 2001, the rate for this age group was up compared with the previous census. In 2011, it was 11.9%.

Chart 2 Rate of English–French bilingualism, by age group of people with English as their mother tongue, Canada outside Quebec, 2001 to 2016

Data table for Chart 2
Data table for Chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 2. The information is grouped by Age group (appearing as row headers), 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Age group 2001 2006 2011 2016
percent
5 to 9 years 6.0 7.2 8.2 9.7
10 to 14 years 11.5 12.0 13.0 14.9
15 to 19 years 14.7 13.0 11.9 13.5

Data sources, methods and definitions

Data sources

The data in this analysis are from the 2016 Census of Population. Further information on the census can be found in the Guide to the Census of Population, 2016, Catalogue no. 98‑304‑X.

Specific information on the quality and comparability of census data on language can be found in the Language Reference Guide, Census of Population, 2016, Catalogue no. 98‑500‑X2016003.

Methods

Random rounding and percentage distributions: To ensure the confidentiality of responses collected for the 2016 Census, a random rounding process is used to alter the values reported in individual cells. As a result, when these data are summed or grouped, the total value may not match the sum of the individual values, since the total and subtotals are independently rounded. Similarly, percentage distributions, which are calculated on rounded data, may not necessarily add up to 100%.

Because of random rounding, counts and percentages may vary slightly between different census products, such as the analytical documents, highlight tables and data tables.

Definitions

Please refer to the Dictionary, Census of Population, 2016, Catalogue no. 98‑301‑X, for additional information on the census variables.

Additional information

Additional analyses on language can be found in The Daily of August 17, 2017, and in the Census in Brief articles entitled Linguistic diversity and multilingualism in Canadian homes, Catalogue no. 98‑200‑X2016010 and English, French and official language minorities in Canada, Catalogue no. 98‑200‑X2016011.

Additional information on language can be found in the Highlight tables, Catalogue no. 98‑402‑X2016005; the Data tables, Catalogue nos. 98‑400‑X2016045 to 98‑400‑X2016079 and 98‑400‑X2016343 to 98‑400‑X2016345; the Census Profile, Catalogue no. 98‑316‑X2016001; and the Focus on Geography Series, Catalogue no. 98‑404‑X2016001.

An infographic entitled Immigrant languages in Canada, 2016 Census of Population also illustrates some key findings on immigrant languages in Canada.

For details on the concepts, definitions and variables used in the 2016 Census of Population, please consult the Dictionary, Census of Population, 2016, Catalogue no. 98‑301‑X.

In addition to response rates and other data quality information, the Guide to the Census of Population, 2016, Catalogue no. 98‑304‑X, provides an overview of the various phases of the census, including content determination, sampling design, collection, data processing, data quality assessment, confidentiality guidelines and dissemination.

Acknowledgments

This report was prepared by Jean‑François Lepage of Statistics Canada’s Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division, with the assistance of other staff members of that division and the collaboration of staff members of the Census Subject Matter Secretariat, Census Operations Division, and Communications and Dissemination Branch.

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