Penticton residents overcome the language barrier

Census reveals English is not the primary language of 14 per cent of the population, with German and Punjabi the next most common

Upkar Grewal

Upkar Grewal

Upkar Grewal is part of the city’s 11 per cent club.

She’s among that slice of Penticton residents, 3,625 people in all, recorded in a fresh batch of Census 2011 data whose native language is not English or French.

Grewal is also one of 640 locals who reported Punjabi as their language of choice

“Punjabi is more comfortable,” she explained.

The 33-year-old, who’s employed as a settlement worker for South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services, also speaks Hindi and English, the language in which she received her education in India.

Grewal immigrated to Canada in December 2009 and said it’s the language she uses at home to communicate with her extended family.

“Since it’s our mother tongue, we’re more expressive in Punjabi,” she said.

Punjabi is also the second most commonly spoken non-official language in Penticton, according to the new census data. Top spot belongs to German, which the census found was the mother tongue of 870 people here. Portuguese (250), Dutch (215) and Ukrainian (140) rounded out the top five.

Eighty-six per cent of Penticton residents, a total of 27,805, reported English as their first language in 2011, up from 83 per cent in 2006. Meanwhile, those who prefer French numbered just 570 and accounted for 1.7 per cent of the city’s population, down from 1.8 per cent in 2006.

In total, Penticton residents reported they spoke 82 different languages.

Punjabi remains the most common mother tongue among Canadian immigrants. A total of 460,000 people, or 1.4 per cent of the country’s total population, selected it as their first language on the census form.

For Grewal, it’s also important that her Canadian-born children learn it so they can connect with their relatives and culture in India.

“If my children don’t know any Punjabi at all,” she said, “they will not be able to converse with any of my family members.”