Statistics Canada recently published a study called the ‘Evolution of Immigrant-Language Transmission in Canada”, which examined the rate of change from 1980 to 2006 in the number of first-, second-, and third-generation Canadians who had the same mother tongue as their mothers. The study found that the rate of immigrant-language transmission has significantly increased, especially among first-generation (Canadian-born) children, 55% of whom had the same mother tongue as their immigrant mothers. The rate of language transmission has increased among all immigrant groups in Canada. The groups with the highest levels of successful immigrant-language transmission are the most recent immigrant groups, including people who speak Spanish, Chinese, and especially Punjabi. The study tells us that among certain language groups, including those who speak Punjabi, Armenian, Chinese, Turkish and Urdu, 70% or more of first generation children in Canada claim these languages as their mother tongues.

As for children who are second and third generation in Canada, the strongest immigrant-languages spoken as a mother tongue are Punjabi, Greek, and Spanish. Though an immigrant-language may not be a Canadian-born person’s mother tongue, this does not mean that he or she cannot speak it. The percentage of Canadians who can speak in their parents’ or grandparents’ mother tongue at all is even greater than the percentage of Canadians who share the same mother tongue as their parents. This study is truly exemplary of the incredible rate of language transmission and retention among immigrant groups in Canada.

There are several contributing factors behind the high rate of language transmission among immigrant groups in Canada, but the most important one is related to Canada’s immigration policy, which emphasizes family reunification. Since the 1980s, Canada has made every effort to help entire families migrate to Canada together, from newborns to grandparents. In doing so, Canada has helped immigrant communities grow stronger, and it has helped families retain their ethnicity and cultural traditions. Transmission of immigrant-languages has been supported by several factors, including the presence of some grandparents who only speak the immigrant-language in question. This has increased the need for Canadian-born children and grandchildren to learn the mother tongues of their relatives. In general, the more young children are exposed to immigrant-languages within their family, the more likely it is that they will successfully adopt the language in question as their own mother tongue.

Even more impactful may be the multicultural Canadian philosophy in general, which is unique and world-renowned. Canadians see an immigrant’s mother tongue as being an element of their ethnicity and identity that is as important as their race, religion, cultural heritage, and traditions, if not more so. The Canadian government and society encourages cultural preservation as evidenced by the countless cultural celebrations and festivals held throughout Canada every year, all done in an effort to celebrate the hundreds of cultures that contribute to Canadian identity. Upon their arrival, Canadian immigration applicants build strong ethnic communities where the immigrant-language is at times the only language that needs to be spoken – English and French are often unnecessary for communication in certain areas. It is no wonder that immigrant-language transmission is effective in Canada – or that transmission is significantly more successful in Canada than in the United States – and its importance continues to intensify over time. 


For more information about immigrating to Canada, contact FWCanada – Canadian Immigration Law Firm

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