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BlogWhy Montreal's Linguistic Diversity Makes it a Great Place to Live (and Learn)

Why Montreal's Linguistic Diversity Makes it a Great Place to Live (and Learn)

Written by Holly on February 1, 2021

If you ask us, there are many, many great things about living in Montreal, but perhaps our favourite thing about the cityaside from the delicious food, abundance of festivals and other events and stunning scenery and architectureis its linguistic diversity.

Linguistic diversity refers to the number of different languages spoken in a place (such as a city or workplace). Both linguistic diversity and multilingualism—the ability to speak multiple languages—are on the rise in Canada, according to the results of the 2016 census. 

In 2016, nearly eight million Canadians (7,749,115, to be exact) reported having an “immigrant mother tongue” (i.e. a first language that isn’t English, French or one of the Aboriginal languages found in Canada), up from 6,838,715 in 2011. Of the Canadians whose native language isn’t French or English, seven in 10 continue to speak that language at home. 

While Canada as a whole boasts an impressive amount of multilingualism, it’s naturally the big cities—Montreal, Ottawa-Gatineau, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver—that can claim the most linguistic diversity. In Montreal, over a million people report having an immigrant mother tongue, with Arabic, Spanish, Italian, Creole languages and Mandarin topping the list of the most reported native languages. 

There are numerous benefits to speaking more than one language yourself, but even just being exposed to other languages that you don’t speak has its advantages. Researchers at the University of Washington, for example, found that picking up a new language is often easier when you’re exposed to that language—even if you’re not actively trying to learn it—while a study out of the University of Chicago found that children who are exposed to more than one language are better communicators. 

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According to Katherine Kinzler, one of the authors of the University of Chicago study, “children in multilingual environments have extensive social practice in monitoring who speaks what to whom, and observing the social patterns and allegiances that are formed based on language usage.”

One of Kinzler’s co-authors, Samantha Fan, also noted that “being exposed to multiple languages gives you a very different social experience, which could help children develop more effective communication skills.”

Why Montreal's linguistic diversity makes it a great place to live (and learn)

Montreal is in an especially good position to take advantage of the benefits of linguistic diversity, thanks to the city’s inherent bilingualism. Regardless of which language a person speaks at home, it’s a given that all Montrealers will encounter at least two languages—French and English—almost every time they leave the house.

Although Montreal is officially a French city, culturally, it’s quite bilingual, and the vast majority of Montrealers identify it as such. According to the 2011 census, French is the first language of roughly half of the population of the Island of Montreal (with English accounting for 16.64%), while the 2016 census found that 45% of the population of the province of Quebec as a whole can comfortably speak both. 

So while moving to Montreal won’t magically result in immediate bilingualism, being exposed to both of Canada’s national languages on a regular basis certainly makes things easier for those who do want to learn them—and offers endless benefits even for those who don’t.

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