Canada’s two official languages, English and French, are known by more Canadians now than ever before, according to data recently published by Statistics Canada.
As of 2016, when the last national census was conducted, the national rate of bilingualism in Canada jumped to 18.0%, the highest it has ever been. And StatsCan has been tracking Canadian bilingualism in some form since 1901, so we can trust them when they say the bilingualism rate in Canada has “reached the highest proportion ever.”
What’s arguably more interesting is how this recent uptick in Canadian bilingualism is somewhat unprecedented. Canada’s national bilingualism rate has barely moved in the past 15 years, staying roughly at 17.7%. And outside of Quebec, most provinces and territories experienced a decline in bilingualism from 2006 and 2011.
That isn’t the case anymore, with bilingualism on-the-rise in a every single province and territory, excluding British Columbia and Manitoba. According to the new data, the areas that experienced the sharpest rise in French-and-English speakers were the Northwest Territories, New Brunswick, Yukon, and Quebec, of course.
To no one's surprise, Quebec boasts the highest rate of bilingualism within its population, at an impressive 44.9%. New Brunswick is a far second at 34.0%, with Yukon, Prince Edward Island, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and the Northwest Territories all boasting bilingualism rates above 10%, too.
Quebec is becoming more bilingual, too. In 2016, there were a little over 3.6 million bilingual people living in Quebec, an increase of around 300,000 people from 2011. This increase in Quebec’s bilingual population accounted for 64.0% of Canada’s total growth of the bilingual population.
One of the more interesting findings included in the StatsCan census brief, titled “English–French bilingualism reaches new heights,” is the age at which Anglophone Canadians outside of Quebec learn to speak French, and how they do it.
According to the 2016 data, most native English-speakers outside of Quebec achieve bilingualism in school between the ages of 5 and 19 years of age.
It’s no big surprise that students in the younger end of that age bracket pick up French in school, since it’s far easier to pick up a new language when you’re around 5 to 9 years old. But for the first time, bilingualism increased for all student age groups, particularly students in the 10-to-14-years-old group.
So if you're in Ontario and hate being forced to take French class, just tough it out, because you can actually learn the language if you try.