Five per cent of Toronto’s residents can’t speak English or French, report says

Published On July 10, 2018 | By damianali93 | News

Social Planning TO revealed in a study released Monday said five per cent of people living in the city can’t speak English or French, creating a barrier in their ability to get government services. (Social Planning TO/Twitter)

Damian Ali

One of Canada’s most diverse cities is experiencing a communication problem, a new report finds.

The Social Planning Toronto study, entitled “Talking Access & Equity: A Profile of City of Toronto Residents Who Speak Neither Official Language,” found the inability among almost five per cent of the city’s residents can’t speak either official language which creates barriers in their ability to receive social services.


The non-profit organization found although Toronto is home to a population that speaks more than 200 languages, 4.9 per cent of the city’s population are unable to have a conversation in English or French.

“Many Toronto residents who do not speak English experience significant barriers to participating in community and civic life, accessing public and community services, finding employment, and achieving a decent standard of living,” the study said.

“As a result, our communities and city are deprived of the full social, cultural and economic contributions of these residents,” it said.


A socio-demographic profile of Toronto generated using the 2016 census revealed multiple factors why these language barriers were present.

These factors included age, ethnicity, participating in community and civil life and accessing community services such as healthcare.

“According to a scoping research review, health care professionals and policymakers recognize language barriers as a significant obstacle to self-advocacy, which they described as a necessary skill for navigating Canada’ health care system,” the study found.

Andrew Furegato, a language and translation instructor at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies, says basic communication in any country’s official languages is vital.

“Diversity in language, especially in a city that prides itself in diversity, is critical because it doesn’t reflect well on us when a new study or report like this comes out,” Furegato said. “That’s why it’s important for everyone to know at least some basic English or French because it not only helps them at the end of the day but the city at large.”

In order to lessen the burden of official language instruction, the report states a one-size-fits-all approach cannot meet the diverse needs of the city. Federal and provincial governments must both have a role in meeting the unique needs of adults and children, the study said.

Federal governments should engage with academic institutions and community organizations in reviewing its official language instruction programs, the study found.

In addition, the study says the Ontario government should examine the support systems these programs offer. Including transportation and child care supports would help facilitate access to these programs and reduce gaps in families learning official languages, the study found.

“We recommend that the city of Toronto ensure that linguistic and cultural needs of residents are addressed in the development, implementation, and evaluation of its plans and strategies in order to promote social inclusion and reduce inequities for residents with language barriers,” the study said.

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