Tag Archives: Language

The Most Commonly Spoken Languages in Canada, Besides English and French

A couple of years ago, I came across an map that I found fascinating. It showed the most commonly spoken languages in the US (after English and Spanish). Some were fairly intuitive (French in Louisiana, Arabic in Michigan, etc.), but some forced me to think about the history (recent and past!) of a given state. For instance, I wouldn’t have guessed Chinese as the most commonly spoken language after English and Spanish in New York! I probably would have guessed Italian or Polish in thinking about the early immigrants to Ellis Island.

After seeing that post, it made me wonder what the most commonly spoken languages in Canada were (after English and French, of course). Sadly, my Google Fu kept turning up ‘snake eyes.’ It wasn’t until early last year that I saw tweet from Conrad Hackett, a demographer with the Pew Research Center, that linked to the very map I was looking for the year before. However, this map is even better, because it’s interactive!

The US map I linked to above shows the most commonly spoken language (after English/Spanish) by state. The map for Canada allows you to zoom in and look at specific areas within Canada. For instance, instead of grouping all of Ontario into one bucket, you can see some differences, depending upon which part of Ontario you’re viewing. For instance, in the Census Division (er, Census Division in Canada is kind of like “County” in the US) or York and Toronto, the most commonly spoken language after English/French is Chinese. However, in Peel, it’s Punjabi. Having lived in all three of those areas, those would have been my guesses.

However, I’ve also lived in Victoria and I’m not sure what I would have guessed. The answer is Chinese and I suppose that’s somewhat intuitive given that many immigrants from China choose BC (Vancouver or Victoria) as their place to call home). Similarly, right now, I live in Ottawa and I wouldn’t have guessed Chinese, nor would I have guessed Arabic for Gatineau (which is part of the National Capital Region).

One thing that should be immediately striking about the map is how much “Aboriginal” there is. It appears to be the account for the most land size. It’s probably not fair to group all the Aboriginal languages into one, so here’s a note on the methodology from the creators of the map:

We thought about this a lot when creating the map, and the primary reason is that there are simply not enough colours in the visual spectrum to use a distinct colour (and texture) for each language so that the map is actually visually pleasing and comprehensible. The editorial decision was made to combine the Aboriginal languages into a single colour (while retaining the distinctions and language-specific details when hovering). Why do we think this was a good decision? Almost all of the feedback we’ve received has been “Wow, I’m so happy there’s so much purple, it’s so great how much of Canada is dominated by indigenous languages!”. The purple wave is so striking, so visually stunning, and it clearly communicates the strength of the Aboriginal population across much of Canada — this effect would have been lost if we had selected different colours, and it would look just like everyone else. So we believe we struck a good balance.

One other part of the country that stands out is the Northwest Territories (near the top of the map). You probably could have given me a dozen guesses and I wouldn’t have said “Arabic” as the most commonly spoken language after English/French.


Speaking the Same Language is Harder than it Looks

Have you ever tried speaking with someone who’s native language is not your own? That is, if you’re an English speaker, have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone who’s first language is not English? As the world grows closer to itself (in many ways) I suspect that you’re more likely to be forced to converse with people who won’t be communicating in their first language. I bet you might be surprised just how difficult communication can be with someone who’s native language is not your own. It can be quite an experience and I encourage you to try it.


The corollary that follows from this idea is you being the person who’s not the native speaker. That is, if you’re native language is English, try learning another language and then speaking with someone for which this language is their native language. So, maybe you’re trying to learn French. It can be quite a humbling experience to try and speak to someone who is a French-speaking person. You might recognize some of the frustrations you had when you were the native speaker when looking at the person speaking French with you.

The important point I’m trying to make here is the idea of empathy. This exercise I’ve just outlined is a great way to foster empathy. You’d be able to tangibly experience what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes.

Let’s Talk About “Gays and Lesbians”: Language Matters!

On my way back from an airport drop-off this morning, I was listening to NPR. There was a news report that the Boy Scouts of America would be deciding today whether they would allow ‘gays’ to be in the Boy Scouts of America. They then spoke about the Governor of Texas and former Republican Presidential (!) candidate Rick Perry who thinks that the Boy Scouts most certainly should not change the rules. NPR then played a clip of President Obama and his position on allowing ‘gays and lesbians‘ to serve openly in the military.

All of this is starting to get really irritating.

Right now, at this moment, (unless you know me or can infer from the title of this post), you probably think I’m going to make a plea for the status quo. Well, that’s absolutely false.

Instead, I’m going to make a plea for the reporters, pundits, politicians, talking heads, and just about anybody else that we not refer to each other by a single characteristic. Gays. Lesbians. When was the last time you turned to your friend and referred to the “straight people?”

This reminds me of my days as a doctoral student in a clinical psychology PhD program. During one of our classes, I remember one of the members of my cohort make an impassioned plea that we stop referring to people by their personality disorder. Schizophrenics. Borderlines.

I can completely understand why people do it. I’ve done it. And I’m sure I’ll do it in the future (though, not intentionally, of course). It’s easier to refer to a group by saying gays and lesbians than it is people who are gay or people who have a sexual orientation different from me (as it’s usually non-gay people who are marginalizing folks who are gay and lesbian). Not only is it “easier,” but it’s the way that everyone else does it. If there were ever a reason that needed to be almost completely banned from being a reason for doing something, that would be it.

Look, I understand that most people say it like that or that it’s easier to say it that way, but do you understand what you’re doing when you refer to the “gays and lesbians” in that way? It’s dehumanizing!


Well, by dissociating any other human characteristic in your description, it’s easier to marginalize and think of people who are gay/lesbian as different. It’s also easier to be more crass, harsh, and inhumane. In particular, if you think you’re talking about someone who’s not human, this’ll make it easier to, naturally, not treat these people as human.

Making this change won’t be easy. Speaking in this way is so pervasiveIt’s in the immigration debate in the way we refer to people by their ethnicity. Though, even just invoking ‘immigrant’ for some folks makes it easier to be inhumane. Short tangent: I always find the immigration debate altogether strange in the US. A great majority of the people who live in the US today are descended from immigrants. Do they not remember? Do they not care? Don’t they realize that the people trying to immigrate to the US share so many characteristics with their ancestors who did the same many moons ago? I digress.

Marginalizing people by referring to one characteristic is pervasive. I should also say that categorizing people, at times, can be useful. “All the boys line up on this side of the classroom, all the girls on that side.” And that makes perfect sense. There’s utility in a lot of things (maybe not everything), but when it’s taken to the extreme, it can do harm. Categorizing, taken to its extreme, can look like marginalization and by extension, inhumanity.

It’s time we start recognizing that the way we speak has profound effects on the people around us. I’ve written before about the importance of the words that we choose and how they can have an effect on those around us, and I’d say that this discussion is an extension of that. We need to be mindful of the way we talk about people — because — they — are — people. It may seem trivial, but it’s important to remember. We’re talking about people.

So — my call to action — notice what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. Do you say people who are gay/lesbian or do you say gays/lesbians? The first step in making this kind of a change is noticing that you’re doing it.

Instead of Resolutions, Make New Year’s Challenges

I may be a bit late to the party in writing about New Year’s Resolutions, but I did want to share with you a philosophy that I think you may find useful. When was the last time you made a New Year’s Resolution that you actually stuck with — for the whole year? If I’m being honest, I can’t think of one resolution that I stuck with the whole year, but then again, I can’t really remember any resolution I’ve made.

So, I submit — make a New Year’s Challenge!

First, there’s the language. A challenge is much more inviting than a resolution. (Am I right?) Second, do you know the definitions of these two words? Resolution:

A firm decision to do or not to do something.

While challenge means:

A call to take part in a contest or competition.

I don’t know about you, but a challenge — by definition! — is much more inviting. In fact, the idea of a resolution (in this context!) kind of seems a bit out there, doesn’t it? The sheer inflexibility of it nearly makes it an impossibility. It’s not fair to you to put such a stringent barrier on yourself. It’s no wonder that people fail to keep their resolutions — our ideas change all the time!

There’s another piece to this that I think is important: skills. A challenge to learn a new skill could certainly be compelling and it may expand one’s awareness. I remember last new year’s I signed up for CodeAcademy’s challenge to learn how to code. I know I didn’t finish it, but I got pretty far and it did re-jog my memory on some of the coding I’d learned in high school.

If you’re going to challenge yourself to learn a new skill, be sure to take it easy on yourself and be mindful of how you position this challenge. For instance, I’d like to learn how to play the guitar and the piano, and learn a couple of languages. It would be pretty silly of me to try to learn all of those all at once (although, some might argue that the reverse). I’m setting myself up to fail on some of these challenges. Like I said, it’s also important how I position these challenges.

For instance, it’s a bit ambiguous to say, ‘I’m going to learn Spanish or French.’ What does that mean? Do I want to be able to converse with strangers, order off of menus, work in the French government, etc. Instead of placing these kinds of targets, I’ve decided to just plan to practice French for 30 minutes a day (or 30 minutes a day during the week). This way, my skill will improve and I won’t have a vague target in the future. (As a brief aside: I’m still trying to decide between Memrise and Duolingo for practicing the new language. I may just alternate between both.)

What challenge(s) will you have for the new year?