Poll: Seven in Ten Canadians Say Newcomers’ English is Insufficient

April 20, 2022

If you’re a landed immigrant in Canada, you’ll most likely have passed the English language test. That means you can aptly navigate day-to-day and workplace interactions in your adopted language.

A 2021 Leger poll conducted for TRIEC has turned that premise upside down.

Seven in ten (70%) employed Canadians identify language barriers as the top challenge when interacting with new immigrants in the workplace, although immigrants are less likely to agree. Taken together, language barriers, including issues relating to accent, pronunciation and writing, are twice as likely as any other challenge that working Canadians expect when communicating with new immigrants.

More than any other personal attribute, accent is perhaps a more powerful indicator of group identity. You only need to open your mouth before someone else, consciously or not, passes a judgement. Name is also indicative of social status.

Consider the following studies:

  • 1980 study found a correlation between accents and employment outcomes, with German-accented job seekers outperforming South Asian and West Indian accented English speakers.
  • People with Asian-sounding names in Canada are less successful in securing interviews, according to a 2017 study.
  • A 2019 study from the University of Alberta showed that doctors with foreign accents are viewed as less competent than their Canadian peers.
  • In 2013, TVO took to the street to ask Canadians what they would do if they struggled to understand accented English. Some said they’d rather not ask the other person to repeat out of politeness. (25:26 in the video)

As a recent immigrant to Canada, I’ve had my fair share of challenges. Having grown up speaking Chinese, a language without verb conjugations, I find it tricky navigating a dozen English tenses. My native language has no pluralized nouns either, the reason why I’m never sure which is the right term—sky or skies— to describe the vast space above our head.(Or is it heads?) Preposition rules make my head spin. Then there is Corporate Canada’s preference of the verb “flip” over “send.” As in, let me flip you that document—a semantic enigma neither I, nor the internet, could crack.

Observe, learn, and repeat. That’s how I strive to master a language I did not grow up speaking.

Like myself, many newcomers are making an effort. Perhaps native-born Canadians should do the same in trying to understand us.

The author is the Content & Media Relations Manager at TRIEC.


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