Linguistic Discrimination Against Immigrants in Canada

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Harjyot Sohi-54597166

Migrating to a new country comes along with many struggles. One of those many struggles is, dealing with linguistic discrimination. Linguistic discrimination is often based on accents and speaking one's native language.[1] Migrating to a new country is extremely difficult, but it is even more strenuous when immigrants are migrating to an English-speaking country such as Canada, or the United States. For many immigrant’s that are migrating to English speaking countries, having an accent or speaking in their native language can result in linguistic discrimination against them. It can become difficult to obtain a job, or to find housing.[2] Many new immigrants rely on getting a job for financial support, to provide for their families and themselves.


Immigrant Females in Canada

According to Statistics Canada, in recent years there has been an influx of immigrant woman residing in Canada. In Canada, immigrant woman and girls make up 21.7% of the entire female population according to the National Household Survey of 2011.[3]

According to Statistics Canada's population projection, if trends continue like how they currently are, immigrant woman and girls would constitute for 27.4% of Canada's female population.[3]

Canada is home to a very diverse population, many of which are immigrants. Many immigrants don't speak the English or French language in Canada. According to Statistics Canada "within the immigrant population, 70.4% of female immigrants, and 78% of recent female immigrants had a non-official mother tongue only. This degree of diversity is related to a decreasing proportion of immigrants landing in Canada from Europe. In 1981, 52% of female immigrants had a non-official mother tongue only".[3]

Immigrant Youth in Canada

According to a study done by Tracey M. Derwing, participating college students in ESL (English as a second language) admitted that they would feel more respected by Canadians if they spoke English well and without an accent.[4]

In 2016 it was reported by Statistics Canada, that 2.2 million children under the age of 15 were first generation immigrants. If trends continue to progress like how they are now the percentage of first-generation immigrants could increase. "This population could represent between 39.3% and 49.1% of the entire population of children aged 15 and under living in Canada in 2036.[5]

Canadian Employers Prefer Accent Free Employees



Many immigrants that come to Canada are highly qualified, but many come to Canada to escape their own countries as refugees in hopes of a better life. The vast diversity in Canada is what drives many immigrants to come here and settle down. Although, it is hard to settle down when getting a job is so difficult. Many qualified immigrants also have a hard time finding a job, even if they're highly qualified. In a research study done by Gillian Creese and Edith Ngene Kambere, it was evident that having an accent can deter employers from hiring a potential employee.[2] The methods used were focus groups and they consisted of African American immigrant women in Vancouver.[2] The researchers asked eight open ended questions about employment, housing, language, and gender. Participants in this study were qualified women who have been residing in Canada for at least a few years. Although all the participating women in this study were fluent in English, their accent kept deterring them from securing jobs. The participants mentioned that their skills would often get them an interview, but once the employer heard their accents it would become clear that these women are immigrants and that alone would prevent them from securing the job.[2]


Immigrant youth in Canada also face a lot of hardships because of their accents or because they choose to speak their native language.[6] "Even when immigrant youth can use English well, a foreign accent can lead to mistreatment or lack of recognition by native language users".[6] Linguistic discrimination is used to dehumanize immigrants so that they constantly feel as if they are not completely Canadian. Immigrant youth in Canada that have an accent can often be interpreted as uneducated, and less affluent.[6] Furthermore, many immigrant students that don't speak English fluently, choose to join ESL (English as a second language) in order to learn.[6] This separates them from the regular English-speaking students and makes them feel as if they are not good enough. "In addition to the role played by accent in stereotyping, accent provides further information about people, legitimatizing discrimination against them".[7]Recently, there has also been an influx of accent reduction courses for immigrants, this is because a reduced accent will produce an improvement in employment prospects.[4]


Ethnocentrism the belief that one's own ethnic group is different yet sometimes superior to other ethnic groups.[8] This can be dangerous because it can cause people to become prejudice and bias. Ethnocentrism is especially harmful in a workplace environment, specifically in the hiring process. "For almost 50 years field experiments have been used to study ethnic and racial discrimination in hiring decisions, consistently reporting high rates of discrimination against minority applicants – including immigrants".[8]Although times have changed and racism is less tolerated in all situations in society, it is still significantly visible.[8] Linguistic discrimination is less detectable because employers could use various other reasons to explain why a candidate did not get hired, when in reality the candidate is being discriminated against. Linguistic discrimination is hard to prove.[8]


For many immigrants, coming to Canada gives them many opportunities that they otherwise would not have. However, for the immigrants that don't speak English well and only speak their native language, they can become susceptible to linguistic discrimination.[1] It is very hard to avoid linguistic discrimination because it's something that is very noticeable when someone speaks. Many immigrant women face linguistic discrimination and it often prevents them from finding a job even though they are highly qualified.[2] Immigrant youth in Canada also face a lot of linguistic discrimination because of their accents, and because they are often in ESL to improve their English.[4] The issue doesn't seem to be the accent itself, but the fact that having an accent implies that someone is originally from somewhere else that does not have English as their native language. This implication can lead to immigrants being stereotyped as less intelligent and uneducated.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Orelus, Pierre Wilbert (2012). "Facing with courage racial and linguistic discrimination: The narrative of an ELL caribbean immigrant living in the U.S. diaspora. Diaspora, Indigenous, and Minority Education". Diaspora, Indigenous, and Minority Education. 1: 19–33.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Creese, Gillian, Edith Ngene Kambere (2003). "What Colour is Your English?". Review of Sociology and Anthropology. 40: 565–573.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Hudon, Tamara (2015). "Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report". Statistics Canada.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Derwing, Tracey (2003). "What do ESL students say about their accents?". Canadian Modern Language Review. 59: 547–567.
  5. Statistics Canada. (2016). Census of Population, 2016:Children with an immigrant background: Bridging cultures, Catalogue no.98-200-X2016015.Retrieved from:
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Kayaalp, Dilek (2016). "Living with an accent: A sociological analysis of linguistic strategies of immigrant youth in Canada". Journal of Youth Studies. 19: 133–148.
  7. Souza, L. E. C., Pereira, C. R., Camino, L., Lima, T. J. S., & Torres, A. R. R. (2016). The legitimizing role of accent on discrimination against immigrants. European Journal of Social Psychology, 46(5), 609-620. doi:10.1002/ejsp.2216
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Zschirnt, E., & Ruedin, D. (2016). Ethnic discrimination in hiring decisions: A meta-analysis of correspondence tests 1990-2015. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 42(7), 1115-1134. doi:10.1080/1369183X.2015.1133279