Credits: ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY
And while more Canadians reported being able to hold a conversation in French in 2011 than in 2006 — nearly 10 million versus 9.6 million — it's down in terms of the proportion of Canada's overall population.
Over the past 30 years, the use of French increased 30% and French as a mother tongue increased as well, but the hikes lag the 38% population growth seen during the same period.
And bilingualism is centred in Quebec, New Brunswick and Ontario.
The 2011 census figures released Wednesday show 5.7 million Canadians can have a conversation in both official languages.
That's up a mere 350,000 people from 2006, and the bulk of them — 311,000 — are French-speaking Quebecers who've picked up English.
“I would suspect some of that increase is French-speaking immigrants who go to Quebec and then pick up English, rather than native Quebecers,” said Doug Norris, a statistician with Environics Research.
“Overall, the changes aren't huge and are pretty much status quo.”
The proportion of Canadians who speak English or French most often at home has decreased since Canadians were last surveyed in 2006.
In Canada, the use of English at home fell from 66.7% to 66.3%, and in Quebec, French fell from 81.8% to 81.2%.
Outside Quebec, just over a million Canadians reported French as their mother tongue. The use of the language grew in Alberta by 18% and in British Columbia by 12% — something Statistics Canada puts down to Quebecers moving west for jobs.
The results also indicate that the use of French continues to decline in Canada as a whole, part of a 30-year trend, with the most pronounced drop in Canadians whose mother tongue is French.
Two demographic factors have driven that decline — international immigration and the low fertility rate of French-speaking Canadians.