What Languages Are Spoken in Canada?

If you ever decide to visit Canada, you’ll most likely hear people speaking English or “français canadien,” the French expression for Canadian French. Are these two languages equally used, though? And are there any other languages you might hear?

Most Canadians speak English or French, the country’s two official languages. Mandarin is Canada’s third most common language, followed by different immigrant languages (Punjabi, Arabic, Italian, and Polish) and indigenous languages (Inuktitut and Cree).

In the rest of this article, I’ll talk about Canada’s linguistic diversity and ways to greet people in English and French. I’ll also discuss the top three languages spoken in Canada and the general knowledge of English in this country (since Canada is a bilingual country).

What Languages Are Spoken in Canada?

Canada has been a country of bilingualism since its foundation in 1867. This is a place where the Anglophone and Francophone worlds intertwine. Nowadays, this country is also home to people of various backgrounds, which promotes Canada’s language variety.

Canada’s Language Variety

As of 2022, Canada is home to approximately 38.5 million citizens. Many different ethnicities live in this country, adding to its multiculturalism. Due to this cultural melting pot, many languages are present in Canada.

However, the Canadian government recognizes only two official languages, English and French.

Many residents who have recently moved to Canada or wish to preserve their linguistic heritage often use non-official languages at home. 

For this reason, they frequently report using the following languages around their families: 

  • Mandarin
  • Cantonese
  • Hindi
  • Arabic
  • Punjabi
  • Italian
  • Polish
  • Greek 

Northwest Territories and Nunavut recognize indigenous languages as their official languages, alongside English and French.

In fact, most Canadians of indigenous background report using an indigenous language at home. Cree and Inuktitut are the most common indigenous languages in Canada.

What Are the Top 3 Languages Spoken in Canada?

I already mentioned that various languages are present in Canada, but which have the most speakers?

English, French, and Mandarin are Canada’s top three languages, according to the 2021 census. English and French are the official languages in Canada, while Mandarin owes its popularity to a large number of Chinese immigrants.

English has remained the number one language in Canada for a long time. About 75% of the population reported English as their first language. This percentage translates to approximately 26 million Canadians. 

French takes second place. Almost 21% of Canadians listed French as their first language, which is nearly 8 million people. Interestingly, Canadian French has been experiencing a slight decrease in speakers for a long time. 

Many people interviewed for the 2021 census also reported non-official languages as their first language.

One of these languages is Mandarin, now considered the third most spoken language in Canada, with an estimated 530,000 speakers. 

Canadians listed many other non-official languages as their preferred use in the 2021 census, but English, French, and Mandarin Chinese are the three most popular ones.

Do Canadians Speak English?

When asked to name the top five countries that use English, we would probably not take too long to think of Canada.

Most Canadians speak and understand English, and their accent is very similar to American English. Quebec is the only province where they prefer French over English, and some Quebec locals might not speak English so well.

I already talked about multiculturalism in Canada and the strong presence of the French language. For this reason, it would be interesting to consider how many Canadians, in reality, speak English and to what extent.

To understand this issue, we should first look at Canada’s bilingualism. Bilingualism means being able to use two languages at the same level of proficiency.

Canada made an effort to enable people the equal usage of both English and French in the legislature and service activities through The Official Languages Act of 1969.

However, English still dominates over French in everyday life. 

Very few Canadians can use both English and French to the same extent. The provinces use mostly English. Major cities like Vancouver and Toronto obey the bilingual law, but most people still prefer English in everyday usage.

Quebec is the only place where the majority uses French. Quebec has recently started imposing certain restrictions on speaking English. The license for work in this province is possible only for those offering services primarily in French.

Generally, you can visit Canada if you only speak English. Even in Quebec, you’ll manage just fine as a tourist if you can’t speak French. Shopping, ordering at restaurants, or calling an Uber can all be done in English. 

How Do You Say Hello in Canada?

As everywhere else, when greeting people in Canada, you should choose your words based on the level of formality. 

You can usually say “hello” or “hi” to greet people in Canada. In more formal settings, it’s acceptable to say “good morning” or “good evening.” In Quebec, people use French expressions such as “bonjour” and “salut.”  

English is still the majority language in most provinces, which makes using English expressions for greetings perfectly acceptable. 

In Canada, you’ll most likely hear the ubiquitous “hello” and a similar yet informal expression, “hi.” Around people they know, Canadians usually say, “hey” or “how’s it going?”

You should say “good morning,” “good afternoon,” or “good evening” if you want to sound more professional.

Learning some French phrases will be helpful if you find yourself in Quebec. “Bonjour” is the most neutral expression; you can use it anytime and with everyone. It translates to “good day” or “hello.” 

You’ll also hear French Canadians greeting one another with “salut.” “Salut” is acceptable, but it’s more informal.

Some Canadians might also shake your hands or kiss you on the cheek when saying hello. However, use these greetings only if you know others are also comfortable using them.

Now that you know all this, Canada is a great tourist destination. If you are interested in traveling by plane or renting a car once you get there, you can check out my other articles to learn some helpful information about these things.

Conclusion

Canada is a multilingual country where you can hear different cultures using different languages. The official two languages are English and French. 

Still, very few places are bilingual, and English is the majority language for most speakers. 

There are also a lot of immigrants and indigenous residents in Canada who use their mother tongues, such as Mandarin, Punjabi, Arabic, or Inuktitut. 

All these factors make Canada an English-speaking country with a rich language variety.