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1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2005  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 21/01/2005   
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Contents >> Population >> Languages

Even though English is Australia’s national language, due to cultural diversity in the population over 200 languages are spoken in the community. Languages other than English are not only spoken by migrants who have settled in Australia from all over the world, more than 60 different languages are spoken by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. The 2001 census indicated 2.8 million people (16% of the population) spoke a language other than English at home (table 5.69), which represents an increase of 213,100 people or 8% since 1996.

Over 50,000 people spoke an Australian Indigenous language (including Australian Creoles), which equates to 12% of all Indigenous Australians and less than 1% of the total Australian population. Two-thirds of Indigenous people in the Northern Territory and 17% of Indigenous people in South Australia spoke an Indigenous language at home. The three most commonly spoken Indigenous languages were Kriol (an Australian Creole) and two Central Australian languages: Pitjantjatjara and Warlpiri.

In 2001 the five most commonly spoken languages other than English were Italian, Greek, Cantonese, Arabic (including Lebanese) and Vietnamese, with speakers of these languages together comprising 7% of the total population. The popularity of these languages is associated with immigration over the last 50 years from countries where these languages are spoken. While the number of settler arrivals from countries such as Italy and Greece was high at the end of World War II, large numbers of settler arrivals from Lebanon and Viet Nam arrived during the 1970s and 1980s, and from China in the 1990s (DIMA, Immigration: Federation to Century's End, 1901-2000).

Greek, Arabic and Italian speakers had the largest proportions of Australian-born speakers, reflecting the fact that these languages were mainly brought to Australia 20 or more years ago and have been maintained among their children. Languages spoken by migrants arriving in Australia more recently, such as Mandarin and Filipino, had a smaller proportion of Australian-born speakers.


5.69 PEOPLE WHO SPOKE A LANGUAGE OTHER THAN ENGLISH AT HOME - 2001

Males
Females
Persons
Proportion born in Australia(a)
Persons as a proportion of population
'000
'000
'000
%
%

Italian
175.4
178.2
353.6
42.7
2.0
Greek
131.8
132.0
263.7
50.9
1.5
Cantonese
108.2
117.1
225.3
20.0
1.3
Arabic (incl. Lebanese)
108.7
100.6
209.4
43.2
1.2
Vietnamese
86.1
88.1
174.2
25.5
1.0
Mandarin
67.0
72.2
139.3
12.2
0.8
Spanish
45.2
48.4
93.6
22.7
0.5
Tagalog (Filipino)
30.8
48.1
78.9
8.8
0.4
German
35.7
40.8
76.4
19.4
0.4
Macedonian
36.6
35.4
72.0
38.6
0.4
Croatian
35.2
34.6
69.9
34.0
0.4
Polish
27.1
31.9
59.1
20.0
0.3
Australian Indigenous languages
25.1
25.9
51.0
99.6
0.3
Turkish
25.7
25.0
50.7
39.7
0.3
Serbian
24.8
24.4
49.2
22.1
0.3
Hindi
24.4
23.4
47.8
13.5
0.3
Maltese
20.5
20.9
41.4
28.7
0.2
Netherlandic
18.3
21.9
40.2
14.6
0.2
All other languages(b)
352.4
368.5
720.9
19.0
4.0
Total
1,378.9
1,437.6
2,816.5
29.5
15.8

(a) Persons whose birthplace was not stated, inadequately described, n.e.c. or at sea were excluded prior to the calculation of percentages.
(b) Excludes languages that were not stated, inadequately described, and non-verbal so described.

Source: ABS data available on request, 2001 Census of Population and Housing.


English proficiency among people who spoke a language other than English at home varied with the age of the speaker and according to whether he or she was born in Australia (table 5.70). Around 88% of all people aged under 25 years who spoke a language other than English at home spoke English well or very well, compared with 60% of those aged 65 years and over.

People born in Australia who spoke a language other than English at home were generally more likely to speak English well or very well than the total population speaking a language other than English at home. Overall, 91% of those born in Australia spoke English well or very well, compared with 82% of the total population speaking other than English at home.


5.70 PROFICIENCY IN ENGLISH, People who spoke a language other than English at home - 2001
Age group (years)

Units
0-24
25-44
45-64
65 and over
Total

Total population speaking other than English at home
Speaks English well or very well
%
88.1
87.2
77.1
59.9
81.6
Does not speak English well
%
8.4
11.5
20.1
29.5
14.9
Does not speak English at all
%
3.5
1.3
2.8
10.7
3.5
Total
%
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
Total(a)
no.
860,401
930,520
671,549
354,019
2,816,489
Australian-born population speaking other than English at home
Speaks English well or very well
%
86.7
97.4
92.9
81.3
90.5
Does not speak English well
%
8.6
2.3
6.1
14.2
6.5
Does not speak English at all
%
4.6
0.3
1.0
4.5
3.0
Total
%
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
Total(b)
no.
493,439
259,214
46,531
9,807
808,991

(a) Includes 45,000 people who did not state how well they spoke English.
(b) Includes 20,000 people who did not state how well they spoke English.

Source: ABS data available on request, 2001 Census of Population and Housing.


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