Immigration, Assimilation, Ethnicity and All That Jazz

Learned Another Language as a Tot, English at School – ESL or Not?

Posted by chinesecanuck on May 15, 2008

I didn’t speak English until I started school.  English is technically not my first language.  Cantonese is.  According to the Statistics Canada definition, Cantonese is my mother tongue, as it is defined as “the first language learned at home in childhood and still understood by the individual at the time of the census.”  I certainly still understand Cantonese.  My parents and grandparents speak Canto to me every day.  I usually reply in English to my parents, but in Cantonese to my grandparents. Gung Gung and Poh Poh do not speak much English.  Neither does my paternal grandmother.  English is my most comfortable language.  It’s the language I use before anything else.  I think in English.  However, Statscan does not have a category for people like me.  And there are plenty of people like me.  Many second generation Canadians, regardless of culture are like me.  We may not have said anything yet, but I’m pretty sure we don’t want to be grouped in the same  category as people who learned English much later in life.  We don’t sound like English is our second (or third, fourth, etc) language.  Our accents are indistinguishable from people whose families have been in English Canada for generations.  And at the same time, we’d be lying if we said that English was our first language.  It’s tough when we have to check off a box!

I think it’s time that they actually have a box for people in this situation.  I think it’s a great way to find out how many Canadians UNDERSTAND their ancestral language, but do not speak it or default to it.

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One Response to “Learned Another Language as a Tot, English at School – ESL or Not?”

  1. This is a good point.

    When did they add the “and still understood by the individual at the time of the census” part? I might have been categorized as ESL if they didn’t have that part.

    *EDITED as there was a more personal message within reply*

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