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Montreal | Trilingualism on the rise

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Tom Tran speaks Vietnamese, French and English. At home ? “It’s mostly French because my wife is Cambodian,” he explains. We speak in French and in English. With our daughter, we speak French. »

Carmen Megia speaks two languages, Spanish and French. But his children master three. In addition to Spanish, they speak French and English. “I speak more Spanish,” she says. But they speak more French and English. »

Like Tom and Carmen’s children, more and more people are trilingual in Montreal and say they speak many languages ​​in everyday life. Some even have multiple mother tongues.

According to the most recent data from Statistics Canada’s 2021 census, obtained at the request of The Press23.7% of the population speaks at least three languages ​​in Montreal.

This is a significant increase from the 2016 census, where this percentage was 21.1%. In 2001, the first year for which these data are available, it was 16%.


Such high trilingualism makes Montreal a unique city in Canada and probably in North America, according to the CEO of Montreal International, Stéphane Paquet.

“For us, he says, it’s part of what distinguishes Montreal from the rest of Canada, from the rest of America. Then, it’s part of who we are and the advantages for companies, for individuals, for international organizations to choose Montreal instead of choosing another city. »

He cites the UN agency UN-Habitat, which chose to settle in Montreal, in particular because French is spoken there. “It is definitely a plus for us who are trying to attract individuals, companies and international organizations. »

The other major Canadian cities all have fewer people who can speak three languages. In Toronto, the proportion of trilinguals is 13.5%, according to Statistics Canada. It is 13.3% in Ottawa-Gatineau, 11.8% in Vancouver and 8.7% in Calgary. And in many of these cities, the combination of the three languages ​​is different and does not necessarily include French.

Why are there so many trilingual people in Montreal?

“Anyone can land in North America, outside Quebec, and keep their mother tongue and learn English,” explains Mr. Paquet, of Montreal International. In Quebec, as the host society is French-speaking, the person who arrives here will also learn French. »

Montreal is officially a French-speaking city whose common public language governed by language laws is French. But, in fact, it is a bilingual city because of the historical presence of the two communities, French and English.

“There are two common public languages ​​in Montreal, especially west of Saint-Laurent Boulevard and increasingly in the Plateau Mont-Royal,” observes Jean-Pierre Corbeil, associate professor in the sociology department of the University. Laval.

“Everyone who comes to us understands that French and English are mastered by a very high proportion of the population, and that it is even higher in Montreal. So, we can say that in Montreal, there are two convergence languages ​​and not just one, whereas in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, Regina, the convergence language is English. »

A sign of the appeal of both languages, nearly one in ten Montrealers cites French and English equally when asked to identify their first official language spoken at home or in the public space.


Mr. Corbeil adds that Montreal “is a bit like a laboratory” in Canada and around the world.

“You don’t find many places like this where there are so many people who can speak at least three languages ​​on the same territory,” he says. It confronts our famous traditional segmentation where we said that there are francophones, anglophones and allophones. If, instead of emphasizing linguistic groups, we emphasize the use of languages, it becomes fascinating because we realize that there are people who use two or three languages ​​in same day. »

Bilingualism increases by about two percentage points in Montreal every five years, says Mr. Corbeil.

According to the last census, the proportion of the population able to conduct a conversation in two or more languages, whether official or unofficial, was 69.8% in Montreal, 56.1% in Toronto and 53.1 % in Vancouver.

“More specifically, the French-English bilingualism rate was 56.4% in Montreal, 7.4% in Toronto and 6.5% in Vancouver according to the 2021 census,” notes Étienne Lemyre, analyst at Statistics Canada. .

Among immigrants admitted from 2016 to 2021 who reside in Montreal, 85.6% could conduct a conversation in two or more languages, official or non-official, and 43.3% spoke French and English.

With the collaboration of Pierre-André Normandin, The Press

Learn more

  • 7.2%
    Proportion of Montrealers who have more than one mother tongue

    SOURCE: Statistics Canada

    8.8%
    Proportion of Montrealers who speak many languages ​​at home

    SOURCE: Statistics Canada



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