Driven in part by the arrival of thousands of French-eschewing immigrants, Canadian rates of French-English bilingualism have dropped for the first time since the election of prime minister Pierre Trudeau, according to a Statistics Canada report released Tuesday.
Rather than illustrating any nationwide reticence to learn multiple tongues, however, the numbers may simply point to French losing ground to other languages such as Cantonese, Punjabi and even Cree and Inuktitut.
“French is clearly important both nationally and internationally, but it could be that people — especially outside Central and Eastern Canada — would be interested in bilingualism but in other languages such as Chinese or Spanish,” said Fred Genesee, a bilingualism researcher at McGill University.
Between 2001 and 2011, Canada’s bilingualism rate dipped to 17.5% from 17.7%.
Although slight, the decline marks the first time Canada’s French-English skills have slipped in more than four straight decades of surging bilingual growth.
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