Cayo: Language still a barrier for many immigrants

posted on January 5, 2015

By Don Cayo, Vancouver Sun | Link to Article

By Don Cayo, Vancouver Sun | Link to Article

For the past decade or two, immigrants to Canada have been better educated than at any time in our history. Yet, these newcomers still tend to get stuck with lesser jobs and smaller paycheques, in some cases quite a lot smaller, than their Canadian-born neighbours.

This doesn’t make much sense in a country with a rapidly aging workforce and in an era when technology and the practice of offshoring have combined to reduce demand for menial workers and place a premium on higher skills.

Why can’t well-educated immigrants cash in?

The short answer – or at least part of it – is the difficulty many immigrants have communicating in English or French. But the complete picture is more nuanced, according to two recent studies from the Canadian Labour Market and Skills Researcher Network.

It turns out that a significant factor is not only whether an immigrant’s mother tongue is English or French, but if not, then how closely related it is to one or the other of Canada’s official languages. For example, immigrants who grow up with a Nordic language, which shares two of four linguistic roots with English, are likely to earn six per cent less than native-born Canadians, whereas the gap widens to 33 per cent for those who speak a dialect of Chinese, which has no common roots with English or French. Most Canadians, regardless of where we were born or what language we spoke growing up, can intuitively understand the basic case made by two researchers, Casey Warman of Dalhousie University in Halifax and Christopher Worswick of Carleton in Ottawa. They find, not surprisingly, that recent immigrants with limited English language abilities struggle in the job market even when they have high levels of education.

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