Life in Toronto Without English: 130,000 residents do not speak English and seek reduced barriers to language programs

Over 130,000 people — a population the size of a small city — do not speak English and face everyday challenges navigating life in the city, a new report from Social Planning Toronto finds. The report finds these residents have diverse and complex language learning needs.

“This population is big, and their needs are as diverse as their stories and backgrounds,” said Peter Clutterbuck, Interim Executive Director of Social Planning Toronto. “These residents are our neighbours, from the young mother at the local park caring for small children, to the grandmother next door — being able to speak English would make a big difference in their quality of life, from finding a good job to accessing services in their community.”

The report finds that high rates of poverty and unemployment are indeed common among the city’s non-English speaking population. It also examines the barriers these residents face in accessing not only language classes but linguistically and culturally appropriate city services in order to participate fully in civic and community life. “For seniors, in particular, language classes are not just a space for learning, but for the social connection that can combat isolation,” Clutterbuck said.

Clutterbuck said that while the non-profit sector has “been doing the heavy lifting” trying to meet the language learning needs of this community, the report calls for all three levels of government to boost and update their support. The Federally funded LINC (Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada) program, for example, currently excludes learners once they receive their Canadian citizenship — forcing them to choose between staying in their class (and the community formed there) and becoming a citizen. And especially for provincially funded English as a Second Language classes, childcare is a barrier.

The report, entitled “Talking Access & Equity: A Profile of City of Toronto Residents Who Speak Neither Official Language,” draws extensively from the 2016 census and recommends policy and program changes to ensure the social, cultural and economic inclusion of these residents. The report is available at, along with the “Toronto Language Map,” an interactive resource highlighting how Toronto’s linguistic diversity evolved over a 10-year period (2006–2016).

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