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Community Through Communication


Language is a major challenge for newcomers. From 2006-2016, Perth and Huron welcomed 1390 newcomers from other countries. International immigrants that arrived after 2006 currently represent about 1% of Perth and Huron Counties’ total population [1].

The majority of newcomers to Perth and Huron do indeed speak English. 90.6% of recent immigrants to languages graphPerth, and 86.6% to Huron speak English. However, about 1 in 10 newcomers to Perth and Huron Counties do not speak an official Canadian language, while well over a third of recent immigrants to Perth-Huron speak non-official languages at home (Figure 1). But as newcomers settle into their new homes, they tend to speak official languages more often at home. Long-term immigrants (immigrants that arrived in Perth-Huron before 2006) speak non-official languages at home at less than half the rate of recent immigrants [1].


The most represented languages spoken at home by newcomers to Perth are: Arabic, Tagalog, Gujarati, LearningHindi, Punjabi, Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin and Lao (Figure 2). Huron sees a slightly less diverse range of languages spoken by newcomers, with Dutch, Afrikaans, Gujarati and Punjabi spoken represented by recent newcomers (Figure 3). But much of the language diversity in the region is represented by small numbers, with only a handful of families speaking each of the least common languages. German is a clear exception to this, as it is by far the most spoken non-official language in Perth and Huron. 2.3% of the total population in Perth, and 3.4% of the total population in Huron primarily speak a German dialect at home. Importantly, of those speaking German, 80.1% in Perth and 84.4% in Huron are not newcomers to the region, but rather, they primarily represent the established Anabaptist communities in the region [1].

non-official; Languages in PerthLearning a new language is a difficult task, especially for adult newcomers. Only about one in five newcomers are under the age of 14 [1]. This means that the majority need to juggle work and ESL classes in order to make the transition to their new home a successful one. A recurring theme voiced by newcomers and service providers alike is that ESL training is insufficient for newcomers’ needs. For example, classes are limited, and often combine students across many levels of English competency. These limitations are impactful to newcomers, because not being able to communicate restricts their ability to access social services, find meaningful employment, and become a part of the community. One survey identified limited English skills as the second greatest settlement challenge for newcomers [2], while another found that language barriers are one the top reasons why newcomers have difficulty accessing settlement and integration resources [3]. Nevertheless, service providers are doing what they can. Knox Presbyterian Church in Goderich offers English classes taught by volunteers, with simultaneous child care to increase accessibility. The Centre for Employment and Learning (CEL) has locations in Clinton, Goderich, Wingham, Exeter, many of which offer ESL courses. Roughly 10% of their clientele are newcomers [4].


Whenever possible, service providers also offer services in other languages. The local public library, for Non-official Languages in Huronexample, is an excellent resource for newcomers. In addition to offering print materials in a variety of languages, newcomers can also use public access computers for photocopying, scanning, printing, and internet access in order to complete and send paperwork. The Clinton, Goderich, Wingham, Exeter libraries are also used as a meeting place for settlement services. The most requested languages for non-English resources at the Stratford Public Library are Polish, Spanish, Arabic, Dutch and Italian [5]. In total, the library has nearly 500 titles in international languages. The Huron County library system primarily gets requests for Arabic and Spanish resources, and has 439 international language and print titles. Libraries in both Perth and Huron Counties have international DVD and CD titles as well, and will purchase resources in other languages upon request [6].


The vast majority of newcomers speak English at work, with small groups speaking German, Spanish or Mandarin in Perth and German in Huron [1]. For those that don’t speak English, employers have used buddy systems with local employees and even brought in interpreters to help bridge the language gap while newcomer employees develop their language skills [7].

Knowledge of languageWith time, education, and support, newcomers do learn official languages (Figure 4). Among long-term immigrants, only 1.8% in Perth and 0.9% in Huron do not know English or French, representing about a fifth and tenth, respectively, of the number of recent newcomers who do not speak an official language [1]. Though it takes a lot of time and effort from both newcomers and the community, over time, language barriers can be broken down.



  1. Census Data, 2016, Perth and Huron Counties

  2. The Newcomer Outreach and Needs Assessment (NONA) Project, 2015.

  3. “Making Ontario Home”, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, 2012,

  4. “Embracing Diversity: Newcomer Experiences in Perth and Huron Counties”, Social Research & Planning Council, 2017,

  5. Information from Robyn Godfrey, Stratford Public Library

  6. Information from Christa Lehnen, Huron County Library

  7. Discussions with employers

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