North Delta has clearly become distinct from Ladner and Tsawwassen, which poses some challenges, according to Delta's mayor.
Asked for her take on the latest Statistics Canada figures on languages, Lois Jackson, a longtime resident in North Delta, has seen firsthand how her community has gradually transformed its cultural makeup over the last few decades.
"It really has changed, certainly over the period of time I've lived in North Delta. It's not only here but also all across Canada. Certainly here, there's pockets like Richmond, which has many Chinese people who seem to congregate there. Those who speak Punjabi are coming to Surrey, but we have a lot of the overflow from Surrey," Jackson said.
According to the latest census on languages, 70.1 per cent of Delta's population reported English as their mother tongue, while 26.9 per cent reported a nonofficial language.
In Delta in 2011, the three most common mother tongues, other than French or English, were Punjabi (11.3 per cent), Hindi (1.8 per cent) and Mandarin (1.7 per cent).
At 11.3 per cent of the population, Delta's percentage of Punjabi-speaking residents makes the municipality the second highest in that category, second only to Surrey, in the Lower Mainland.
Most of Delta's Punjabi-speaking residents reside in North Delta.
A report three years ago by the Early Childhood Development Committee noted that in 2006, when the previous census was taken, 36 per cent of North Delta residents did not have English as their mother tongue, a figure well ahead of Ladner or Tsawwassen. The predominant non-official language in North Delta was Punjabi. North of 72nd Avenue, one in two residents spoke Punjabi.
Jackson said cultural diversity itself isn't a problem, but issues arise from a growing number of households that do not speak English or don't grasp the language. One problem that can be seen elsewhere in urban centres is isolationism.
"What we found in almost all the communities, a lot of people as they have aged will find that they have been in Canada for something like 30 or 35 years but still aren't fluent in the language of English, which tends over time, as their children have grown, to isolate some people.
We're finding these things in some of the higher density areas in Greater Vancouver," said Jackson.
The mayor noted many people that may not know English, including new immigrants, likely want to feel safe by staying within their own language community. The challenge is to get these people aware of what programs and services are available to assist them, as well as getting them involved and feeling part of the greater community. A key step is to have people learning English, she said.
"I'm a little worried when we have so many people in this country who don't speak English, even as a safety issue. It is very important for people to at least try and learn."
Jackson said when she went to India as part of a Delta delegation a couple of years ago, in the city of Mangalore she was surprised that 85 per cent of residents spoke English.
"It's mandatory they take it in school, so we just have to analyze it a little bit and ensure that we have a population that is able to communicate to the country they came. This is something that's emerging from the more dense areas of Vancouver, about what is neighbourliness and what segregates people from each other," she added.
According to the school district, the schools with the highest English as second language populations in Delta are Jarvis, Hellings, Gibson, Heath and McCloskey, all in North Delta. Punjabi and Mandarin are the most common spoken languages among the English language learners (ELL).
The school district has placed additional resources in those schools, including teaching assistants and multicultural workers, for 1,600 ELL students and their families.
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