Language of Choice at Work – Investments in English and French Language Training

CIC News
Published: March 18, 2008

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) has been pumping funds into the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) program, supporting English and French language training providers across Canada as they help newcomers transition into life in Canada. Additionally, the Quebec government has recently introduced new measures to improve and extend French language classes to immigrants. But is it enough? The latest Statistics Canada census figures show that a large number of Canada's new immigrants are working in a native tongue that is neither of the country's official languages.

Based on data from the 2006 census, there are more than 200 languages spoken by Canadian residents. The most recent Statistics Canada report focused on languages used in the workplace. The language used most often or regularly at work in 2006 was English for 85 percent of respondents, followed by French for 26 per cent of respondents, and some other language for five percent of respondents. Reflecting the multitude of languages in Canadian society, the study explains that a "language used most often at work" is used predominantly or equally with one or more other languages.

However, in cities where there is a high concentration of newcomers, many immigrants routinely switch at work between their mother tongue and English or French. In Vancouver, 33 per cent of allophones (those whose mother tongue is neither English nor French) regularly speak something other than English or French in the workplace. Figures are even higher for particular groups: 53 per cent for Chinese speakers in Vancouver, 50 per cent for Koreans, and 40 per cent for Punjabis. In Montreal, 34 per cent of people whose mother tongue is Chinese and 27 per cent of those whose mother tongue is Spanish reported using a non-official language at least regularly at work. In Toronto, this applies to 39 per cent of people whose mother tongue is Chinese and 31 per cent of those whose mother tongue is Punjabi.

Nevertheless, the importance of being able to work in English and/or French in Canada is central to successful integration into the job market for newcomers, as most Canadian businesses operate predominantly in one of the official languages. Under the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada Program (LINC), the Government of Canada, along with provincial governments, school boards, community colleges, and immigrant and community organizations, offers free language training services across the country for adult Permanent Residents.

Immigrants who are selected by the province of Quebec will now have access to French training even before they land in Canada. As part of an agreement with the French government's Alliance Française network of cultural centres in 17 countries, Quebec selected immigrants will be able to access French language training online with tutors, or in classes before they land in Canada. Quebec Immigration Minister Yolande James recently announced this new measure as part of a $22.7 million investment to improve and extend French language classes for immigrants over three years to help newcomers integrate.

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