US & Canada

Bilingualism in Canada declines

Bienvenue (Welcome) sign in Morin-Heights in the Laurentian Mountains region of Quebec, Canada 3 June 2012
Image caption French and English have been the official languages of Canada since 1969

Bilingualism among Canadians declined between 2001-11, the first drop in the five decades the country's statistics agency has tracked it.

The share of Canadians able to hold a conversation in both English and French dropped to 17.5% from 17.7% in 2001, Statistics Canada reported.

English and French are Canada's two official languages, but rates of French study outside Quebec have dropped.

Bilingualism in the Francophone province increased to 42.6% from 40.8%

Statistics Canada also noted the country has seen an influx of immigrants whose first language is neither English nor French.

But in Quebec, immigrants helped increase the proportion of bilingual speakers.

Canada began tracking its bilingual speakers in 1961, when 12.2% of Canadians spoke both languages. That proportion had grown every decade through the period ending in 2001.

The decrease in French language instruction has been sharp. Between 1991 and 2011, students learning French as a second language in their regular instruction declined by 24%, to 1.4 million students from 1.8 million.

Statistics Canada said bilingual speakers are "strongly concentrated in regions that have a substantial degree of interaction between Francophones and Anglophones", including the province of New Brunswick, where 33.2% speak both languages.

But New Brunswick saw a decline of one percentage point in the past decade.

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