Close to one-third of British Columbians now report neither English nor French as their mother tongue, Statistics Canada data show.
According to figures released Tuesday, 27.5 per cent of the province’s residents had a non-official language as their mother tongue.
That proportion was up in urban centres like Vancouver, with 41.8 per cent, and in Abbotsford-Mission, with 28.2 per cent.
Outside the Lower Mainland, Victoria and Kelowna had the highest proportion of immigrant languages as their mother tongues.
B.C. is second to only Nunavut for the highest proportion of immigrant languages spoken at home.
Punjabi is the most popular language spoken in B.C., followed by Mandarin and Cantonese.
French as both a mother tongue and a language spoken at home declined Canada-wide. However, bilingualism remained strong: a record 18 per cent of Canadians were fluent in both official languages.
B.C sits at second to last in French as a mother tongue: 1.4 per cent.
The top immigrant languages in Canada were Mandarin, Cantonese, Punjabi, Spanish, Tagolog, Arabic, Persian, Hindi and Urdu, all of which have seen a more than 25 per cent increase in popularity.
Revival of Aboriginal languages
More people than ever are learning Aboriginal languages.
Statistics Canada found that in youth ages zero to 14, 55,970 speak Aboriginal languages at home while only 44,000 have them as mother tongues.
That, to UBC professor Bonny Norton, signifies that recent efforts to teach Aboriginal youth their languages have shown success.
”I would like to think that with the focus on the reconciliation… Aboriginal peoples perception of their value in the larger Canadian society and the value of their languages has gone up,” she said. “Aboriginal people are feeling a sense of ownership for the language.”
Of the 70 Aboriginal languages tracked by Statistics Canada, Cree languages are the most commonly spoken at home.
Teaching these to youth now is crucial, Norton said. Much of the language knowledge in Aboriginal communities was lost during as a result of residential schools.
“When you lose mother tongue speakers that’s a huge loss,” she said. “I think certainly that would be increasingly endangered.”