Punjabi is giving Chinese languages a run for their money in Canada, as per census data released recently by Statistics Canada.
One in five Canadians speaks a language other than English and French (Canada's official languages) at home.
As per the data, people with one of the various Asian languages as their mother tongue comprise 56%, while more than 40% of the immigrant-language population in Canada have a mother tongue of European origin.
Of the Asian-origin languages, Chinese, Punjabi and Tagalog, a Philippine-based language, are widely spoken.
More than 200 languages were reported in the 2011 census, with Chinese languages continuing to dominate. More than 10 lakh people say that they speak Mandarin, Cantonese or Chinese (a non-specified category that includes Mandarin or Cantonese). Punjabi is listed as the next most common foreign language spoken in Canadian households, with 4.6 lakh reporting it as their mother tongue. It also has the highest retention rate.
In Quebec, the English-French bilingualism rate increased 2 percentage points from 2006 to 2011. In the other provinces, bilingualism declined slightly.
The census shows that 17.5% of the population - or 58 lakh individuals - speaks at least two languages at home. Of these, most of them speak English plus an immigrant language such as Punjabi or Mandarin. Less than a quarter of these are using both French and English at home.
The census shows that the most common immigrant language spoken in groups in Canada was Punjabi, reported by 4.6 lakh people. When Punjabi speakers are grouped together with others who speak a closely related language such as Urdu, their number totals 11.8 lakh.
Still, English and French are by far the most dominant languages. About 2.2 crore people reported speaking English most often at home. The census shows that nearly 70 lakh people said they spoke French most often at home.
The census also revealed that about 80% of immigrant-language speakers such as Punjabi and Chinese lived in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Ottawa-Gatineau, Statistics Canada said.
After Cantonese, Punjabi is at the second spot in Toronto, which has the highest proportion of immigrant language usage, with 32.2% of the population speaking a foreign tongue at home.
Punjabi is also closely following Chinese languages in Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. In Vancouver, 7.11 lakh people (31% of the population) spoke an immigrant language most often at home, Chinese and Punjabi being most common.
In Calgary, 2.27 lakh people (18.9% of the population) spoke an immigrant language most often at home (commonly, Punjabi, Tagalog and Chinese). In Edmonton, 1.65 lakh people (14.5% of the population) spoke an immigrant language most often at home, Tagalog, Punjabi and Chinese being most common.
Meanwhile, the Canadian government is planning to toughen language requirements for newcomers, but still immigrants, after gaining fluency in English, prefer to speak their native language.
Punjabi schools run by gurdwaras in Toronto, Vancouver and other cities are also working for the promotion of the Punjabi language among the young generation.
The use of Hindi and Bengali has also seen significant growth (44% and 40%, resepctively) since 2006.