West Vancouver remains the most linguistically diverse community on the North Shore according to the latest release from Statistics Canada, with almost 40 per cent residents having a mother tongue that isn’t English or French and almost 25 per cent speaking a language other than English or French most often at home.
Those statistics have remained relatively stable since the last census, five years ago. But they echo an overall trend across the country. “Never has Canada been more linguistically diverse as it is today,” said Andy Yan, director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program.
Chinese languages most common after English in West Van
In West Vancouver, Chinese languages are the most common non-official languages spoken, with about 12 per cent of residents speaking one of those languages – usually Mandarin – most often at home. Persian and other Iranian languages were spoken most often at home by about eight per cent of West Vancouver residents.
Persian languages spoken more in North Vancouver
In the City of North Vancouver, 32 per cent of residents have a mother tongue other than English or French, Canada’s official languages. Over 10 per cent of residents have Iranian or Persian languages as a mother tongue, the most common languages other than English. About 19 per cent of city residents mainly speak a non-official language at home, with 7.7 per cent of residents chiefly speaking Iranian or Persian languages at home. Just under two per cent speak Chinese languages at home while about the same percentage of city residents speak Tagalog, the language of the Philippines, at home.
In the District of North Vancouver, just over 26 per cent of residents have a mother tongue other than French or English, with most – 8.3 per cent – having Persian languages as a mother tongue. Other mother tongues among district residents include Chinese languages (4.6 per cent), Slavic languages (2.1 per cent), Spanish and Korean (both 1.7 per cent).
Among district residents, 15 per cent most often speak a language other than English or French at home. Persian is the language spoken most often, by six per cent of residents, while three per cent of residents speak Chinese languages at home and about 1.5 per cent speak Korean.
The statistics for the latest census aren’t significantly different to that of the last census, but that isn’t surprising, said Yan.
Language statistics driven by immigration
Patterns in language are driven predominantly by immigration, and those statistics are better measured across longer periods of time – like a generation – he said.
In West Vancouver, for instance, the number of residents who most often speak Chinese languages at home is a result of immigration from mainland China over the past 10 or 15 years, said Yan. (More recent immigrants from mainland China are more likely to speak Mandarin, he added, while immigrants who arrived in an earlier period of time - from Hong Kong, for instance - would be more likely to speak Cantonese.)
Yan said in terms of public policy, the most important issue is that Canada will increasingly rely on immigration to fill gaps in the labour force, for instance, and “a lot of our immigration is going to be from non-English-speaking or non-French-speaking countries” so it will be important to make language learning available to newcomers.
Impact North Shore, which delivers services for immigrants to North and West Vancouver, welcomed the census release on language, saying the organization uses the data to understand immigration patterns and help plan for services.
100 languages spoken on North Shore
In a press statement, the organization noted an increased trend of multi-lingual speakers on the North Shore. About 100 languages are spoken on the North Shore, according to the group.
"We all have a role in recognizing and supporting language diversity. In order for our North Shore communities to be equitable and thriving, all languages need to be heard and celebrated in our community and workplaces," the group added in their statement.
Impact North Shore is exploring the concept of "language equity", the group added.
Significant numbers of ELL students in North Van, West Van
Both North and West Vancouver school districts have significant populations of English Language Learners. In June 2022, West Vancouver School District had 1,402 ELL students, an increase from 1,353 ELL students in 2021.
The North Vancouver School District had 1,045 ELL students last year – a number that is projected to remain relatively stable in the next few years.
Across the country, English and French remain by far the most commonly spoken languages in Canada, according to Statistics Canada.
But the 2021 census also found that 4.6 million Canadians predominantly speak a language other than English or French at home, representing 12.7 per cent of the Canadian population, a proportion that has been increasing for 30 years.
In addition, one in four Canadians in 2021—or nine million people—had a mother tongue other than English or French. This is a record high since the 1901 census, when a question on mother tongue was first added.
English is the first official language spoken by just over three in four Canadians.
The proportion of bilingual English-French Canadians (18 per cent) remained virtually unchanged from 2016. But an increase in the bilingualism rate in Quebec was offset by a decrease in the rest of the country.
Mandarin and Punjabi fastest growing languages
In Canada, four in 10 people could conduct a conversation in more than one language, according to Statistics Canada. This proportion rose from 39 per cent in 2016 to 41.2 per cent in 2021. In addition, one in 11 could speak three or more languages.
The number of Canadians who spoke predominantly a South Asian language such as Punjabi at home grew significantly from 2016 to 2021, an increase fuelled by immigration.
Aside from English and French, Mandarin and Punjabi were the country's most widely spoken languages. In 2021, more than half a million Canadians spoke predominantly Mandarin at home and more than half a million spoke Punjabi.
In 2021, 189,000 people reported having at least one Indigenous mother tongue and 183,000 reported speaking an Indigenous language at home at least on a regular basis.