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Using Languages at Work in Canada, 2006 Census: Provinces and territories

The predominant use of French is rising among immigrant workers in Quebec

The use of French is rising among immigrant workers in Quebec. Thus, of the 507,000 workers born outside Canada, 65% reported using French most often (alone or with another language) at work. This was higher than the proportion observed in 2001 (63%). Moreover, 15% of immigrants for whom French is not the main language of work nonetheless reported using it regularly, the same as in 2001.

This more frequent use of French at work translated into a decrease in the use of English most often at work. This reached 43% in 2006, down from the 47% observed in 2001. On the other hand, the regular use of English at work among immigrants who reported using another language more often covered 25% of immigrants, compared to 22% five years before.

The proportion of immigrants who reported using English and French equally as the main languages at work reached 12% in 2006, down slightly from 2001 (13%).

The predominant use of English or French among immigrant workers in Quebec varied depending on when they immigrated to the country.

Excluding those immigrants who reported using English and French with equal frequency as the main language of work, the 2006 Census reveals that of those immigrants who arrived in Canada before 1961, 47% reported using English predominantly at work. Among those who immigrated between 1976 and 1980, this proportion reached a low of 27%, and later gradually rose and hit a peak of 32% among those who had come to Canada between 1996 and 2000. Among recent immigrants (that is to say, those who arrived in Canada within the five years before the 2006 Census), there was a new reversal in the trend, with the predominant use of English decreasing to 29%. (See Figure 1)

The predominant use of French at work among recent immigrants reached 55% in 2006 (65% including those who reported speaking English and French equally). In comparison, for the 2001 Census, recent immigrants (i.e., those who immigrated to Canada between 1996 and 2001) used French predominantly in a proportion of 48% (58% including those who reported speaking it as much as English).

In 2006, 27% of recent immigrant workers in Quebec reported that they could carry on a conversation in French only, compared to 24% in 2001, and 52% had a knowledge of English and French, compared to 48% in 2001. Many of these recent immigrants who only knew French were from France, Haiti, Morocco or Algeria.

The relative share of recent immigrants who reported knowing English only fell from 29% to 22% between 2001 and 2006. Thus, 79% of recent immigrant workers had a knowledge of French in 2006, compared to 72% five years earlier. Such a situation could account in part for the use of French at work rising among recent immigrants in 2006.

As the 2006 Census is the second census since that of 2001 in which data on languages used at work were collected, it provides the opportunity to assess the extent to which the use of languages has changed for the same cohort of workers. The 2006 Census revealed that the proportion of the use of French as the main language of work rose between the 2001 and 2006 census years among all immigrants who had arrived since 1970. The increase in the use of French and the decrease in the use of English were most significant among the immigrants who arrived in the country between 1996 and 2000.

Figure 1 Predominant use of English or French at work, among immigrant workers, by period of immigration, Quebec, 2001 and 2006

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