Language spoken most often at home of person

Status: This standard was approved as a departmental standard on September 24, 2021.


Language spoken most often at home refers to the language the person speaks most often at home at the time of data collection. A person can report more than one language as 'spoken most often at home' if the languages are spoken equally often.

For a person who lives alone, the language spoken most often at home is the language in which they feel most comfortable. For a child who has not yet learned to speak, this is the language spoken most often to the child at home. Where two languages are spoken to the child, the language spoken most often at home is the language spoken most often. If both languages are used equally often, then both languages are included here.

Person refers to an individual and is the unit of analysis for most social statistics programs.


'Language spoken most often at home' may be analyzed using the 'List of languages'. Here, if the person reported two or more languages, they are classified using the appropriate 'multiple responses' category. Using this approach, the sum of the count of all categories is equal to the size of the total population. The category, 'none', is not used.

'Language spoken most often at home' may also be analyzed by looking at each language separately. Here, the 'List of languages, total responses' should be referred to. This approach is used to look at all responses of a specific language, regardless of whether or not another language was also reported by the same person.

In this second approach, counts are based on the number of times a language was reported, that is, each instance provided for each language spoken at home. Given that a person could have reported more than one language spoken at home, the counts for the specific languages cannot be meaningfully combined, as individuals could be included in the count for more than one language. Hence, the sum of the count of all languages could be greater than the total population.

Conformity to relevant internationally recognized standards

This standard is compatible with the recommendations for censuses contained in the United Nations' "Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses, Revision 3", 2017. The UN recommendations suggest four types of language data that can be collected in censuses. One of these is 'usual language' which the UN defines as "the language currently spoken, or most often spoken, by the individual in his or her present home". The UN does not provide a standard classification of languages. They recommend that when compiling data on usual language each language that is numerically important in the country should be shown, not merely the dominant language. This is done in this standard through the detailed version of the List of languages. Finally, the UN recommends that the criteria for determining language for children not yet able to speak should be clearly indicated. This is done in this standard.

The List of languages is based on the international standard ISO 639 presented in the Ethnologue, using those categories that are applicable to the Canadian population and adding supplementary detail on Indigenous languages spoken in Canada.


Additional information


Relation to previous version

  • Language spoken most often at home of person September 24, 2021 to current

    The definition of the concept has been slightly modified.

  • Language spoken most often at home of person April 20, 2009 to September 23, 2021

    This is a revision to the previous standard 'Language spoken at home'. The previous standard referred only to the one language a person spoke most often at home. This was reflected in the classification which had no categories for multiple responses. Also, there was no standard collapsed classification, users being advised instead to use English and French and the 10 to 15 languages reported with the highest incidence for the given geographic area.

  • Language spoken at home July 15, 1998 to April 19, 2009
Report a problem on this page

Is something not working? Is there information outdated? Can't find what you're looking for?

Please contact us and let us know how we can help you.

Privacy notice

Date modified: