Arabic takes over Spanish as London's second-most-common language

Adios, Spanish; hello, Arabic.

The number of Arabic speakers in the London area has surpassed Spanish-speakers for the first time, making Arabic the area’s most-­spoken language after English.

The switch comes out of the 2016 census, whose section probing language was released this week.

In the previous 2011 census, a little more than 9,000 people in the wider area said Spanish was their mother tongue and about 6,000 people reported it as the most common language spoken at home. Some 7,810 people cited Arabic as their mother tongue and 4,460 as the language they most used at home.

Now, about 11,000 people report Arabic as their mother tongue and about 6,000 commonly speak it at home.

The comparable figures for Spanish run to 9,000 and 5,000.

London, which for a time had so many Spanish-speaking newcomers, largely from Colombia, that it was nicknamed Londombia, isn’t getting the same Latin American influx now, said Paola Bohorquez, the marketing projects assistant for the Canadian Latin American Association in London.

Bohorquez said many Latin Americans who came as refugees left for lack of jobs or through deportations. “Now, it’s really hard to get citizenship as a (Latin American) refugee even if you’re sponsored,” Bohorquez said. “Because the country is taking so many Syrian refugees . . .which is understandable.”

Tam Dam of the London Cross Cultural Learner Centre said the increase in Arabic-speaking people in the census reflects what the centre, a resettlement agency for newcomers, is seeing.

“The majority of newcomers coming to the centre are Arabic-speaking,” Dam said. “It has been a steady trend for awhile.”

Dam chalks up the change to the crises in the Middle East that have brought more Arabic speakers to the region, including Syrian refugees. He also noted younger ­Arabic-speaking refugees who have come to London typically have better English-language proficiency because they tend to be more educated.

But for those who don’t know the language well, it can be tough at first to adjust.

“Older people and women speak less English than youths,” Dam said. “But kids pick up English faster.”

Bohorquez said with fewer Spanish speakers coming to London, the community is trying to maintain the language and culture in the city by promoting Spanish language classes to school-age students and encouraging Latin American families to attend cultural festivals.

London area numbers

Top 5 spoken at home

427,510: English

6,170: Arabic

5,305: Spanish

2,295: Portuguese

1,730: French

Top 5 mother tongues

387,285: English

10,685: Arabic

8,960: Spanish

5,975: Portuguese

5,775: French

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