By: Cheryl Lu, Social Media Coordinator
Canada is a country known for its richness in linguistic diversity. In 1969, Canada officially declared itself bilingual, with English and French being its official languages. The same year, it signed the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, making it an official policy not to return a person to their country of origin if that person had grounds to fear persecution. In 1971, Canada officially adopted multiculturalism, a move to embrace diversity with appreciation and respect for minority languages brought by immigrants, refugees and other newcomers. Moving into the more recent decades, the ongoing movement calling for Indigenous rights has also drawn our attention to preserving and revitalizing Indigenous languages that are on the brink of extinction. Since 2020, a global pandemic has made people realize the importance and urgency of making critical information accessible in as many languages as possible. A new generation, born into or grew up during the lockdowns, having been raised in their mother tongues for most of the times, are starting to enter the society and explore what the world has to offer. The languages in Canada are expanding.
This rapid growth in minority languages is reflected in numbers. According to the 2021 Canadian Census, 4.6 million Canadians “predominantly speak a language other than English or French at home,” making up almost 13 per cent of the entire population. In 1991, this number was only 7.7 per cent. The proportion of minority home language has been steadily growing for the past 30 years and still is increasing. When it comes to mother tongue, every one in four Canadians report having a mother tongue that is neither English nor French, which represents 9 million people in total. When looking at households as units, every one in five Canadian households report to be multilingual – meaning there are at least two languages functioning under the same roof. In multi-generational households, the proportion is as large as 50 per cent. Grandparents not speaking the same languages as their grandchildren seems to be the big trend.
If so many people speak languages other than English or French, what are they speaking? As of 2021, the most spoken languages in Canada, after English and French, are Mandarin and Punjabi. Ranking after them are Cantonese, Spanish, Arabic, Tagalog, Persian Languages, Urdu, Russian and Korean. The fastest growing languages in the number of speakers are Punjabi, Mandarin and Spanish, which have increased from 2016 to 2021 by 49 per cent, 15 per cent and 20 per cent, respectively. Other languages that have seen dramatic growth are Arabic, Tagalog, Urdu, Portuguese, Gujarati, Hindi and Malayalam.
As a language service provider with over 30 years of history, MCIS has been witnessing this growth of language diversity and shift in the languages being requested for services in the past few decades. Take our Immediate Phone Services as an example, in mid-2022, the top three requested languages have been Mandarin, Spanish and Arabic in rotation, with Cantonese, Farsi, French and Vietnamese taking turns in filling the last two positions in the top five requests. Since August, Punjabi and Ukrainian joined the rotation and are still popping up in the top five every now and then. The increase in Ukrainian interpretation was no doubt due to the aftermath of the Russo-Ukrainian War, and the increase in Punjabi is a truthful reflection of the surge of Punjabi-speaking population in Canada. While monitoring the demand for our services, we are also seeing a glimpse of the big picture and witnessing what maybe milestones in the history of Canada.
Since April 2022, MCIS has been funding projects through our Social Benefit Initiative fund (SBI) as a part of our social purpose plan. These projects include our Humanitarian Support Line, developed to deal with the sudden outburst of requests from refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine. Our Rohingya Interpreter Training Cohort was designed to solve the predicament faced by Rohingya refugees, for as a newly introduced language to Canada, the Rohingya language was not only short of sufficient interpreters but also lacked the proper training and certifying system. With all the evolvements of society and the ever-so-growing family of minority languages, it’s important for the language industry to keep up with the immigration and refugee policies to address the newly emerged needs in the market, whether by upgrading the system and broadening language being offered, or developing new programs that are designed specifically for these new demands. It’s the presence of every language and culture that made Canada what it is today, and we, as language service providers, are on the mission to bring the best out of them.