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From English to Urdu, languages spoken at home vary across Simcoe County

There were an additional 37 languages identified by students through Simcoe County District School Board census
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What language does your family speak at home?

According to the 2021 Simcoe County District School Board student census, the most common answers may be different depending on where you live in Simcoe County.

In April 2021, 26,978 students (51%) participated in the first-ever student census undertaken by the public board. The census was completed confidentially. Students in kindergarten to Grade 6 had a parent/guardian participate in the census on their behalf, while students in Grades 7-12 participated in the census themselves.

As part of the census, participants were asked what language or languages they speak at home. This question collected responses from 26,276 participants. During Wednesday’s program standing committee meeting at the board, associate director of education Dawn Stephens provided trustees with a breakdown of the language responses.

“We continue to use this most valuable language data to support our planning and next steps in programming and other departments within the SCDSB as we look to allocate budget and resources in the coming years,” said Stephens.

In total, there were about 80 languages that SCDSB students reported speaking at home.

The five most common languages students reported speaking at home were:

  1. English (96%)
  2. French (5%)
  3. Spanish (1%)
  4. Russian (2%)
  5. Urdu (1%)

When breaking Simcoe County down into five sections (central, north, east, south, west), there are differences between the areas when comparing the five most common languages students reported speaking at home.

The two most common languages students reported speaking at home, English and French, were consistent across the five areas.

In the north and south areas, Urdu was the third most common language that students reported speaking at home. In the remaining parts of the county, Spanish was the third most common language students reported speaking at home.

Students in the north area reported speaking German (1%) and Ojibway (1%) at home while students in the northeast identified Chinese (1%) and Spanish (1%) as languages they speak at home. Students in the western part of the county reported speaking Russian (1%) and German (1%) at home. Students in the southern area of Simcoe County reported Tamil (3%) and Spanish (3%) as languages they speak at home.

The lowest proportion for English spoken at home (91%) is within the southern area of the county while the other five areas show proportions greater than 95%.

The top three language combinations of students who speak English and one additional language at home were:

  1. English and French (4%)
  2. English and Spanish (1%)
  3. English and Urdu (less than 1%)

The top three language combinations of students who speak English and at least two additional languages at home were:

  1. English, French and Spanish (less than 1%)
  2. English, Hindi and Panjabi (Punjabi) (less than 1%)
  3. English, Russian and Ukrainian (less than 1%)

The student census also collected information from students who reported not speaking English at home which amounted to 4%, or 1,181 students. The five most common languages reported for this group of students included: Russian (1%), Urdu (1%), Spanish (less than 1%), Persian (Farsi) (less than 1%) and Tamil (less than 1%).

Home languages identified by fewer than 50 students included: Afrikaans, Albanian, American Sign Language, Bengali, Croatian, Czech, Dari, Dutch, Finnish, Hungarian, Khmer, Macedonian, Malayalam, Pashto, Patwa (Patois), Romanian, Serbian, Sinhala, Swedish, Twi and Yoruba.

There were an additional 37 languages that were identified by students that were not included due to small counts (fewer than 10 students).

As defined in the Anti-Racism Act, public service organizations, which include Ontario school boards, are required and authorized to collect personal information related to programs, services and functions. This includes the collection of personal information related to Indigenous identity, race, religion, ethnic origin, and other demographic data.

During Wednesday’s meeting, student trustee Abby Goneau asked how many of the languages spoken are taught as classes within the board.

Stephens said some schools within the board offer classes in Spanish, Latin or Ojibway depending on whether the school has teachers qualified to teach those languages, and students interested in taking those classes.

“It’s not consistent or available in every school,” said Stephens.

First Nation Communities trustee P.J. Sandy asked if sign language was included as a language in the census, and was informed that American Sign Language (ASL) was included. Less than one per cent of students who participated in the census reported using ASL at home.

New Tecumseth trustee Sarah Beitz asked if ASL would be added as a course at some schools in the future. Stephens said as of now, the board doesn’t have any teachers qualified to teach ASL, but would be looking into options moving forward.

According to the school board, throughout the 2021-2022 school year, reports will be released periodically related to particular themes from the 2021 student census.