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1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2002  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 25/01/2002   
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Contents >> Population >> Languages

English is Australia's national language. At the same time Australia's cultural vitality is also a product of other languages spoken in the community. Over 200 languages are spoken, including 48 Australian Indigenous languages. In 1996, 2.5 million people (16% of the population five years and over) spoke a language other than English at home.

About 44,000 people spoke an Australian Indigenous language or an Australian creole (a language developed from pidgin English) in the home (table 5.58). Speakers of these languages made up 14% of Indigenous people and 0.3% of the Australian population. Some 64% of Indigenous people in the Northern Territory spoke an Indigenous language or creole at home. The two Indigenous languages with the most speakers were Arrente, a central Australian language (3,468 speakers), and Dhuwal~Dhuwala, an Arnhem land language (3,219 speakers).

The leading five community languages, each with more than 100,000 speakers, were Italian, Greek, Cantonese, Arabic/Lebanese and Vietnamese. A further ten languages were spoken by more than 40,000 people. These 15 languages, together with Indigenous languages and creoles, accounted for 73% of all people speaking a language other than English in the home.

Greek, Italian and Arabic had the largest proportions of Australian-born speakers, partly reflecting a greater rate of maintenance of these languages among the second generation of these language groups. Languages mostly brought to Australia more recently, such as Mandarin, have a smaller proportion of Australian-born speakers.

5.58 PERSONS(a) WHO SPOKE A LANGUAGE OTHER THAN ENGLISH AT HOME - 1996

Language spoken at home
Males
’000
Females
’000
Persons
’000
Proportion
Australian-born
%
Persons as
a proportion
of population
%

Italian
183.6
183.7
367.3
40.7
2.3
Greek
130.3
128.7
259.0
46.7
1.6
Cantonese
91.6
98.5
190.1
12.9
1.2
Arabic/Lebanese
83.7
78.3
162.0
37.8
1.0
Vietnamese
67.3
66.7
134.0
12.6
0.8
German
46.3
50.3
96.7
18.9
0.6
Mandarin
42.7
44.6
87.3
6.4
0.5
Spanish
42.2
44.6
86.9
17.6
0.5
Macedonian
34.8
33.3
68.1
34.9
0.4
Tagalog (Filipino)
26.0
41.3
67.3
5.0
0.4
Croatian
33.7
33.0
66.7
32.4
0.4
Polish
28.3
32.7
61.0
16.2
0.4
Maltese
22.4
22.3
44.7
27.9
0.3
Indigenous languages & creoles
21.8
22.4
44.2
98.9
0.3
Turkish
21.7
20.6
42.2
31.3
0.3
Netherlandic (Dutch/Flemish)
18.3
21.9
40.2
12.4
0.3
All other(b)
323.5
333.4
656.9
15.2
4.1
Total
1,218.3
1,256.3
2,474.6
26.0
15.5

(a) Excludes children aged under five years.
(b) Excludes inadequately described languages.

Source: ABS data available on request, 1996 Census of Population and Housing.

The proficiency of speaking English among people who spoke a language other than English at home varied with the age of the speaker and whether or not they were Australian-born. Over 92% of 5 to 24 year olds spoke English well or very well, compared with 59% of those aged 65 years and over (table 5.59). Those born in Australia had a consistently greater proficiency in English, with close to 96% speaking English well or very well, compared to 82% overall. However, proficiency in speaking English well had increased slightly in all age groups since the 1991 Census.

5.59 PROFICIENCY IN ENGLISH, Persons Who Spoke a Language Other than English at Home - 1996

Age group (years)

Proficiency in English
Unit
5-24
25-44
45-64
65 & over
Total

Total population speaking other than English at home -
-Speaks English well/very well
%
92.2
84.6
74.9
59.3
81.5
-Does not speak English well
%
6.9
13.8
21.6
28.7
15.4
-Does not speak English at all
%
0.9
1.6
3.5
11.9
3.1
-Total
%
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
Total(a)
no.
720,744
865,365
600,818
287,662
2,474,589
Australian-born population speaking other than English at home -
-Speaks English well/very well
%
95.5
97.2
90.1
79.3
95.6
-Does not speak English well
%
4.0
2.4
8.1
15.2
3.8
-Does not speak English at all
%
0.5
0.4
1.8
5.4
0.6
-Total
%
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
Total(b)
no.
386,155
213,885
30,553
8,240
638,833

(a) Includes 37,000 people who did not state how well they spoke English.
(b) Includes 14,000 people who did not state how well they spoke English.

Source: ABS data available on request, 1996 Census of Population and Housing.


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