Kim's Convenience and Linguistic Diversity

by Emily Coppella
March 4, 2022

This is the fourth instalment in our series Canadian English in Canadian Television.

It’s no secret that language is diverse in Canada. In Toronto – where the television series Kim’s Convenience is set –only 56% of people have English as their mother tongue, and that number is expected to decline. The remaining 44% have French, an Indigenous language or one of hundreds of immigrant languages as their mother tongue. This means that Canadian English, especially in cities, is spoken with a variety of accents and often incorporates phrases and words from these other languages.

Although Canadian media has been slow to portray this linguistic complexity, Kim’s Convenience is one example of a more realistic depiction of how Canadian English is diverse and continually changing. The Canadian television sitcom depicts a Korean-Canadian family operating a convenience store in the Moss Park area of Toronto. Canadian English is spoken by the characters, but the parents have a Korean accent and occasionally shift into the Korean language.

A clip from Season 3, Episode 8, entitled “English is such a hard language!,” shows Mrs. Kim struggling with English spelling on her convenience store signage. Mr. and Mrs. Kim are also shown switching between English and Korean, revealing the realities of a bilingual family. The couple attends the Toronto Korean East-West Presbyterian Church in the Leslieville neighbourhood, where Korean is often spoken and sung. At home, the family cooks traditional Korean foods like 'gimbap' and 'galbi jjim', using Korean words to describe cooking techniques. The Kim children, meanwhile, are native Canadian English speakers without Korean accents, illustrating a common scenario whereby Canadian youth speak differently than their immigrant parents.

In the clip above, you can watch Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, who plays Mr. Kim, discuss how accents and stereotypes portrayed on television have harmed Asians and other minority groups (Disclaimer: Language that may be offensive). He also explores how the humour derived from miscommunication on the show (as a result of English being Mr. and Mrs. Kim’s second language) is a trope used in comedies even with characters who speak English very well.

From 2011 to 2016, there was an 11% growth in the population who reported speaking Korean in Canada. This award-winning show has not only helped represent Korean culture in Canada, but the linguistic diversity of our country as well.