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Language Standards

The language standard variables are used to measure language diversity and usage in Australia

Reference period
2016

Summary

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) language standards codify methods for collecting, processing and presenting quality data on languages spoken in Australia. The ABS recommends these standards be used in all ABS and non-ABS collections where information on languages spoken is needed. There are five language standards:

  • First Language Spoken
  • Languages Spoken at Home
  • Main Language Other Than English Spoken at Home
  • Main Language Spoken at Home, and
  • Proficiency in Spoken English.

First language spoken

Background

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has developed standards for a number of language variables for use when collecting language data.

The First Language Spoken variable codifies the concept, definitions and methods recommended by the ABS for collecting, processing and presenting quality statistics on the the first language a person could understand and speak. The First Language Spoken variable includes sign languages.

Data relating to First Language Spoken contributes to understanding proficiency in spoken English, which may be an indicator of ability to participate effectively in Australian society, including accessing government and other services.

Introduction

Name of standard

This is the First Language Spoken standard.

Definitions

Nominal definition

Nominally, First Language Spoken is defined as the first language a person masters during the language acquisition phase of intellectual development. This is generally the language spoken in the home by the people who have raised the person from infancy.

Operational definition

Operationally, First Language Spoken is defined as the language the respondent identifies as being the first language which they could understand to the extent of being able to conduct a conversation.

The definition of language is provided in the Australian Standard Classification of Languages (ASCL), 2016 (ABS catalogue number 1267.0).

Discussion of issues

In this standard, the term First language Spoken should be interpreted to include 'native language' and 'mother tongue'.

Non-verbal forms of communication, such as Auslan and similar sign languages, are recognised as separate languages and Signed English/finger spelling is considered to be part of the English language.

The intent of the standard is to collect first language spoken as a child. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) question testing indicates that asking people about language spoken poses few response problems for people who use sign language.

The question modules used for this variable are not designed to measure multiple first languages spoken.

First Language Spoken is one of five ABS language variables. The other language variables are Languages Spoken at Home, Main Language Spoken at Home, Main Language Other Than English Spoken at Home and Proficiency in Spoken English. 

Collection of variable data

Scope

Statistical units

First Language Spoken is an attribute of the statistical unit 'person'. The variable First Language Spoken applies to all persons.

Question modules

There are three standard question modules for collecting First Language Spoken: 

  • detailed question modules (alternative one and alternative two), and
  • minimum question module.
     

The choice of module may be informed by the following factors: 

  • information needs
  • cost of processing the data
  • space available in the collection instrument, and
  • respondent burden.
     

Each alternative to the question modules may be accompanied by a brief explanatory note about why First Language Spoken is collected, including instructions about how to answer the question. The explanatory note can be included with the chosen question module or in supplementary documentation. The recommended text for the explanatory note is in Appendix A.

Detailed question modules

The detailed question modules for First Language Spoken are recommended when extensive data on first language spoken is needed.

There are two alternative detailed question modules which may be used, depending on space and cost considerations.

Detailed question module - alternative one

Q. Which language [did you] [did the person] [did (name)] [will (name of child under two years)] first speak as a child?

For self-enumerated questionnaires, respondents should be instructed to select one option only.

The option list for this question module includes languages according to their statistical frequency in Australia, based on data from the Census of Population and Housing.

The option list can be extended to enable longer lists to be displayed such as in electronic collection drop down lists. If there are space constraints on paper forms, the option list can be reduced.

The 'Other – please specify' category is included to enable respondents, whose first language spoken is not listed, to enter/write their first language spoken in the field/space provided.

Detailed question module - alternative two

This question uses only the options for 'English' and 'Other – please specify' enabling respondents to enter/write their first language spoken. In comparison to Alternative one, this module will use less space in the collection instrument and may increase respondent burden and coding costs.

Q. Which language [did you] [did the person] [did (name)] [will (name of child under two years)] first speak as a child?

Minimum question module

The minimum question module is suitable where there is no requirement for detailed language data.

Q. Which language [did you] [did the person] [did (name)] [will (name of child under two years)] first speak as a child?

Processing the data

Coding

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) language variables are coded using the Australian Standard Classification of Languages (ASCL), 2016 (ABS catalogue number 1267.0).

Detailed information about the criteria used to develop the structure of ASCL is available in the 'Building the Classification' page of ASCL.

Where practicable, it is recommended that data be collected, classified and stored at the most detailed level of the classification. This:

  • allows greater flexibility for the output of data
  • enables more detailed and complex analysis, and
  • facilitates comparisons with historical data and data from other sources.
     

Input categories for detailed data

The standard categories for collecting First Language Spoken using the detailed question module are the 4-digit categories in ASCL, including the supplementary codes.

Input categories for minimum data

The standard categories for collecting First Language Spoken using the minimum question module are:

  • English, and
  • Other language.
     

Coding index

Coding indexes are tools that support categorisation of information against a statistical classification and contain terms that are not officially recognised (e.g. synonyms and misspelt terms). A coding index may be of use to anyone seeking to code responses to a statistical classification and may be requested by contacting standards@abs.gov.au.

All responses to questions about language that are coded to ASCL use the coding rules detailed on the 'Index for Coding Responses' page of the publication. Responses are matched with entries in an ASCL coding index to determine the correct classification code.

Presenting the data

Output categories

Output categories for detailed data

The hierarchical structure of the Australian Standard Classification of Languages (ASCL), 2016 (ABS catalogue number 1267.0) allows users the flexibility to produce statistics at the level of the classification which best suits information needs.

Requirements for data quality or respondent confidentiality may preclude output of data at the more detailed level of the classification. Under these circumstances, data can be aggregated and disseminated at the higher levels of ASCL.

Output categories for minimum data

The standard output categories, for the minimum question module, are: 

  • English, and
  • Other language.
     

Appendix A - explanatory script

Why is the question asked?

Questions on First Language Spoken are asked because data obtained can be used as an indicator of English proficiency. When implemented in administrative and service settings, data related to this variable may be used to assess, measure and monitor service needs.

This explanatory script outlines personal interview and self-enumeration procedures for recording First Language Spoken data from the detailed and minimum question modules.

Detailed question module - alternative one

Interview-based questionnaires

An interviewer selects the option for the language the respondent identifies as the first language spoken. If the first language spoken is not a list option, the interviewer enters/writes the language identified in the 'Other - please specify' category.

If a respondent identifies that they first spoke English and another language, the interviewer can prompt for the predominant first language spoken.

Self-enumerated questionnaires

The respondent selects one option for their first language spoken from the option list. If a respondent's first language spoken is not a list option, they enter/write one language in the 'Other - please specify' category. 

Detailed question module - alternative two

Interview-based questionnaires

An interviewer selects the 'English' option for respondents who identify English as their first language spoken. If a respondent identifies another language as their first language spoken, the interviewer enters/writes the language in the 'Other - please specify' category.

Self-enumerated questionnaires

The respondent selects the 'English' option if it is their first language spoken. If English is not identified as their first language spoken, the respondent enters/writes one language only in the 'Other - please specify' category. 

Minimum question module

Interview-based questionnaires

An interviewer selects the 'English' option for respondents who identify English as their first language spoken. If a respondent identifies another language, the interviewer selects the 'Other' option. 

Self-enumerated questionnaires

The respondent selects the 'English' option if it is their first language spoken. For respondents whose self-identified first language spoken is not English, they select the 'Other' option.

Languages spoken at home

Background

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has developed standards for a number of language variables for use when collecting language data.

The Languages Spoken at Home variable codifies the concept, definitions, and methods recommended by the ABS for collecting, processing and presenting quality statistics on all languages spoken by a person at home. The variable includes sign languages.

Data relating to Languages Spoken at Home contributes to understanding proficiency in spoken English, which may be an indicator of ability to participate effectively in Australian society, including accessing government and other services.

Introduction

Name of standard

This is the Languages Spoken at Home standard.

Definitions

Nominal definition

Nominally, Languages Spoken at Home is defined as the language or languages spoken by a person in the home, on a regular basis, to communicate with other residents of the home and regular visitors to the home.

Operational definition

Operationally, Languages Spoken at Home is defined as the language or languages reported by a person as being spoken in the home. There is no restriction on the number of languages reported by the respondent as being spoken in the home. 

The definition of language is provided in the Australian Standard Classification of Languages (ASCL), 2016 (ABS catalogue number 1267.0).

Discussion of issues

Languages Spoken at Home collects data about all languages spoken within the home. 

Non-verbal forms of communication, such as Auslan and similar sign languages are recognised as separate languages and Signed English/finger spelling is considered to be part of the English language.

The variable may not reflect complete language use, for example

  • people may speak mainly English at home, but outside the home the person may speak mainly a non-English language
  • the variable does not collect data on how often each language is spoken.
     

Languages Spoken at Home is one of five ABS language variables. The other language variables are First Language Spoken, Main Language Spoken at Home, Main Language Other Than English Spoken at Home, and Proficiency in Spoken English.

Collection of variable data

Scope

Statistical units

Languages Spoken at Home is an attribute of the statistical unit 'person'. The variable Languages Spoken at Home applies to all persons.

Question modules

There are two standard question modules for collecting Languages Spoken at Home: 

  • detailed question modules (alternative one and alternative two)


The choice of module may be informed by the following factors: 

  • information needs
  • cost of processing the data
  • space available in the collection instrument, and
  • respondent burden.


Each alternative to the question modules may be accompanied by a brief explanatory note about why Languages Spoken at Home is collected, including instructions about how to answer the question. The explanatory note can be included with the chosen question module or in supplementary documentation. The recommended text for the explanatory note is in Appendix A.

Detailed question modules

Detailed question module - alternative one

Q. Which language or languages [do you] [does the person] [does (name)] [will (name of child under two years)] speak at home?

(Please indicate all languages spoken.)

For self-enumerated questionnaires, respondents should be instructed to select all options that apply as well as enter/write all non-listed languages that apply in the 'Other – please specify' category.

The option list for this question module includes languages according to their statistical frequency in Australia, based on data from the Census of Population and Housing.

The option list can be extended to enable longer lists to be displayed such as in electronic collection drop down lists. If there are space constraints on paper forms, the option list can be reduced.

The 'Other – please specify' category is included to enable respondents, whose languages are not listed, to enter/write their languages in the the spaces provided.

Detailed question module - alternative two

This alternative question may be used when detailed language data is required from a survey instrument which has space constraints. The question can be asked using only fields/spaces for respondents to enter/write their languages. In comparison to Alternative one, this module will use less space in the collection instrument and may increase respondent burden and coding costs.

Q. Which language or languages [do you] [does the person] [does (name)] [will (name of child under two years)] speak at home?

(Please specify all languages spoken.)

......................................................................................

......................................................................................

......................................................................................

......................................................................................

Processing the data

Coding

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) language variables are coded using the Australian Standard Classification of Languages (ASCL), 2016 (ABS catalogue number 1267.0).

Detailed information about the criteria used to develop the structure of ASCL is available in the 'Building the Classification' page of ASCL.

Where practicable, it is recommended that data be collected, classified and stored at the most detailed level of the classification. This:

  • allows greater flexibility for the output of data
  • enables more detailed and complex analysis, and
  • facilitates comparisons with historical data and data from other sources.
     

Input categories for detailed data

The standard categories for collecting Languages Spoken at Home using the detailed question module are the 4-digit categories in ASCL, including the supplementary codes.

Coding index

Coding indexes are tools that support categorisation of information against a statistical classification and contain terms that are not officially recognised (e.g. synonyms and misspelt terms). A coding index may be of use to anyone seeking to code responses to a statistical classification and may be requested by contacting standards@abs.gov.au.

All responses to questions about language that are coded to ASCL use the coding rules detailed on the 'Index for Coding Responses' page of the publication. Responses are matched with entries in an ASCL coding index to determine the correct classification code.

Presenting the data

Output categories

Output categories for detailed data

The hierarchical structure of the Australian Standard Classification of Languages (ASCL), 2016 (ABS catalogue number 1267.0) allows users the flexibility to produce statistics at the level of the classification which best suits information needs.

Requirements for data quality or respondent confidentiality may preclude output of data at the more detailed level of the classification. Under these circumstances, data can be aggregated and disseminated at the higher levels of ASCL.

Appendix A - explanatory script

Why is the question asked?

Questions on Languages Spoken at Home are asked because data obtained can be used as an indicator of English proficiency. When implemented in administrative and service settings, data related to this variable may be used to assess, measure and monitor service needs.

This explanatory script outlines personal interview and self-enumeration procedures for recording Languages Spoken at Home data from the detailed and minimum question modules.

Detailed question module - alternative one

Interviewer-based questionnaires

If a respondent identifies that they speak more than one language at home, the interviewer selects all the relevant options and enters/writes any languages not in the option list in the 'Other - please specify' category.

Self-enumerated questionnaires

If a respondent identifies that they speak more than one language at home, they select all the relevant options and/or enters/writes any languages not in the option list in the 'Other - please specify' category.

Detailed question module - alternative two

Interviewer-based questionnaires

An interviewer enters/writes all the languages the respondent identifies as speaking at home, in the fields/space provided.

Self-enumerated questionnaires

The respondent enters/writes all the language they identify as speaking at home, in the space provided.

Main language other than English spoken at home

Background

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has developed standards for a number of language variables for use when collecting language data.

The Main Language Other Than English Spoken at Home variable codifies the concept, definitions and methods recommended by the ABS for collecting, processing and presenting quality statistics on the main language, other than English, which is spoken by a person at home. The variable includes sign languages.

Data relating to Main Language Other Than English Spoken at Home contribute to understanding proficiency in spoken English, which may be an indicator of ability to participate effectively in Australian society, including accessing government and other services.

Introduction

Name of standard

This is the Main Language Other Than English Spoken at Home standard.

Definitions

Nominal definition

Nominally, Main Language Other Than English Spoken at Home is the main language, other than English, spoken by a person in the home, on a regular basis, to communicate with other residents and regular visitors to the home.

Operational definition

Operationally, Main Language Other Than English Spoken at Home is defined as the main language, other than English, reported by a person as being spoken in the home. If the person speaks more than one language at home (not including English), they are asked to report the language spoken most often. 

The definition of language is provided in the Australian Standard Classification of Languages (ASCL), 2016 (ABS catalogue number 1267.0).

Discussion of issues

When data about Main Language Other Than English Spoken at Home is used in conjunction with other variables, such as County of Birth, the combined data may provide insight into language usage in first and second generation Australians.

Non-verbal forms of communication, such as Auslan and similar sign languages, are recognised as separate languages and Signed English/finger spelling is considered to be part of the English language.

The variable may not reflect complete language use, for example:

  • people may speak mainly English at home but outside the home may speak mainly a non-English language.
  • people may speak mainly English at home but may occasionally speak another language at home.
     

Main Language Other Than English Spoken at Home is one of five ABS language variables. The other language variables are First Language Spoken, Languages Spoken at Home, Main Language Spoken at Home, and Proficiency in Spoken English.

Collection of variable data

Scope

Statistical units

Main Language Other Than English Spoken at Home is an attribute of the statistical unit 'person'. The variable Main Language Other Than English Spoken at Home applies to all persons.

Question modules

There are three standard question modules for collecting Main Language Other Than English Spoken at Home: 

  • detailed modules (alternative one and alternative two), and
  • minimum module.
     

The choice of module may be informed by the following factors: 

  • statistical needs
  • cost of processing the data
  • space available in the collection instrument, and
  • respondent burden.


Each alternative to the question modules may be accompanied by a brief explanatory note about why Main Language Other Than English Spoken at Home is collected, including instructions about how to answer the question. The explanatory note can be included with the chosen question module or in supplementary documentation. The recommended text for the explanatory note is in Appendix A.

Detailed question modules

The detailed question modules for Main Language Other Than English Spoken at Home are recommended where extensive data on main language other than English spoken at home is needed.

There are two alternatives within the detailed question module which may be used, depending on space and cost considerations.

Detailed question module - alternative one

Q. [Do you] [does the person] [does (name)] [will (name of child under two years)] speak a language other than English at home?

(If more than one language, indicate the language that is spoken most often.)

For self-enumerated questionnaires, respondents should be instructed to select one option only.

The option list for this question module includes languages according to their statistical frequency in Australia, based on data from the Census of Population and Housing.

The option list can be extended to enable longer lists to be displayed such as in electronic collection drop down lists. If there are space constraints on paper forms, the option list can be reduced.

The 'Yes, Other' category is included for those people who mainly speak a language in the home that is not offered in the list as a response to the question. 'Please specify' is added to the 'Other' category with a field/space provided for respondents to enter/write their language.

Detailed question module - alternative two

This detailed question uses only the options of 'No, English only' and 'Yes, Other – please specify' for respondents to enter/write their language. In comparison to Alternative one, this module will use less space in the collection instrument and may increase respondent burden and coding costs.

Q. [Do you] [does the person] [does (name)] [will (name of child under two years)] speak a language other than English at home?

Minimum question module

The minimum question module is suitable for collections where there is no requirement for detailed language data. It can be used to identify whether assistance in accessing services and information, due to inadequate English language skills, is required.

Q. [Do you] [does the person] [does (name)] [will (name of child under two years)] speak a language other than English at home?

Processing the data

Coding

ABS language variables are coded using the Australian Standard Classification of Languages (ASCL), 2016 (ABS catalogue number 1267.0).

Detailed information about the criteria used to develop the structure of ASCL is available in the 'Building the Classification' page of ASCL.

Where practicable, it is recommended that data be collected, classified and stored at the most detailed level of the classification. This:

  • allows greater flexibility for the output of data
  • enables more detailed and complex analysis, and
  • facilitates comparisons with historical data and data from other sources.
     

Input categories for detailed data

The standard categories for collecting Main Language Other Than English Spoken at Home using the detailed question module are the 4-digit categories in ASCL, including the supplementary codes. 

Input categories for minimum data

The standard categories for collecting Main Language Other Than English Spoken at Home using the minimum question module are:

  • English, and
  • Other language.
     

Coding index

Coding indexes are tools that support categorisation of information against a statistical classification and contain terms that are not officially recognised (e.g. synonyms and misspelt terms). A coding index may be of use to anyone seeking to code responses to a statistical classification and may be requested by contacting standards@abs.gov.au.

All responses to questions about language that are coded to ASCL use the coding rules detailed on the 'Index for Coding Responses' page of the publication. Responses are matched with entries in an ASCL coding index to determine the correct classification code.

Presenting the data

Output categories

Output categories for detailed data

The hierarchical structure of the Australian Standard Classification of Languages (ASCL), 2016 (ABS catalogue number 1267.0) allows users the flexibility to produce statistics at the level of the classification which best suits information needs.

Requirements for data quality or respondent confidentiality may preclude output of data at the more detailed level of the classification. Under these circumstances, data can be aggregated and disseminated at the higher levels of ASCL.

Output categories for minimum data

The standard output categories for the minimum question module are: 

  • English, and
  • Other language.
     

Appendix A - explanatory script

Why is the question asked?

Questions on Main Language Other Than English Spoken at Home are asked because data obtained can be used as an indicator of English proficiency. When implemented in administrative and service settings, data related to this variable may be used to assess, measure and monitor service needs.

This explanatory script outlines personal interview and self-enumeration procedures for recording Main Language Other Than English Spoken at Home data from the detailed and minimum question modules.

Detailed question module - alternative one

Interview-based questionnaires

If a respondent identifies that they speak only English at home, the interviewer selects the 'No, English only' option. When a respondent identifies that they speak another language other than English at home, the interviewer selects the option for that language. For a respondent who identifies a language not in the option list, the interviewer enters/writes the language name in the 'Yes, Other - please specify' category.

Self-enumerated questionnaires

A respondent selects the 'No, English only' option if only English is spoken at home. When a respondent identifies that they speak another language other than English at home, they select the option for that language. With a language not in the option list, the respondent enters/writes the language name in the 'Yes, Other - please specify' category. 

Detailed question module - alternative two

Interview-based questionnaires

If the respondent speaks only English at home, the interviewer selects the 'No, English only' option. For a respondent who identifies a language other than English, the interviewer enters/writes the language name in the 'Yes, Other - please specify' category.

Self-enumerated questionnaires

If only English is spoken at home, a respondent selects the 'No, English only' option. If a respondent speaks another language other than English at home, they enter/write the language in the 'Yes, Other - please specify category'.

Minimum question module

Interview-based questionnaires

If the respondent speaks only English at home, the interviewer selects the 'English only' option. For all other responses in which a respondent speaks another language other than English, the interviewer selects the option for 'Yes, Other'. 

Self-enumerated questionnaires

The respondent selects the 'English only' option, if only English is spoken at home. Where a respondent speaks another language other than English the respondent selects the option for 'Yes, Other'.

Main language spoken at home

Background

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has developed standards for a number of language variables for use when collecting language data.

The Main Language Spoken at Home variable codifies the concept, definitions and methods recommended by the ABS for collecting, processing and presenting quality statistics on the language often spoken by a person at home. The Main Language Spoken at Home variable includes sign languages.

Data relating to Main Language Spoken at Home contribute to understanding proficiency in spoken English, which may be an indicator of ability to participate effectively in Australian society, including accessing government and other services.

Introduction

Name of standard

This is the Main Language Spoken at Home standard.

Definitions

Nominal definition

Nominally, Main Language Spoken at Home is defined as the main language spoken by a person in the home, on a regular basis, to communicate with other residents and regular visitors to the home. 

Operational definition

Operationally, Main Language Spoken at Home is defined as the main language reported by a person as being spoken in the home. If the person speaks more than one language at home, they are asked to report the language spoken most often. 

The definition of language is provided in the Australian Standard Classification of Languages (ASCL), 2016 (ABS catalogue number 1267.0).

Discussion of issues

Main Language Spoken at Home collects data about languages spoken most frequently or commonly in Australian homes. It does not collect data about the full range of languages spoken by a person in the home. The full range of languages spoken in the home can be collected using the variable Languages Spoken at Home.

Non-verbal forms of communication, such as Auslan and similar sign languages, are recognised as separate languages and Signed English/finger spelling is considered to be part of the English language.

Main Language Spoken at Home is one of five ABS language variables. The other language variables are, First Language Spoken, Languages Spoken at Home, Main Language Other Than English Spoken at Home, and Proficiency in Spoken English.

Collection of variable data

Scope

Statistical units

Main Language Spoken at Home is an attribute of the statistical unit 'person'. The variable Main Language Spoken at Home applies to all persons.

Question modules

There are three standard question modules for collecting Main Language Spoken at Home: 

  • detailed question modules (alternative one and alternative two), and
  • minimum question module.
     

The choice of module may be informed by the following factors: 

  • information needs
  • cost of processing the data
  • space available in the collection instrument, and
  • respondent burden.
     

Each alternative to the question modules may be accompanied by a brief explanatory note about why Main Language Spoken at Home is collected, including instructions about how to answer the question. The explanatory note can be included with the chosen question module or in supplementary documentation. The recommended text for the explanatory note is in Appendix A.

Detailed question modules

The detailed question modules for Main Language Spoken at Home are recommended when extensive data on main language spoken at home is needed.

There are two alternatives within the detailed question modules which may be used, depending on space and cost considerations.

Detailed question module - alternative one

Q. Which language [do you] [does the person] [does (name)] [will (name of child under two years)] mainly speak at home?

(If more than one language, indicate the one that is spoken most often.)

For self-enumerated questionnaires, respondents should be instructed to select one option only or to enter/write one response where listed options don't apply.

The option list for this question module includes languages according to their statistical frequency in Australia, based on data from the Census of Population and Housing.

The option list can be extended to enable longer lists to be displayed such as in electronic collection drop down lists. If there are space constraints on paper forms, the option list can be reduced.

The 'Other – please specify' category is included to enable respondents, whose main language spoken at home is not listed, to enter/write their language in the space provided.

Detailed question module - alternative two

This question module uses only the option for 'English' and the 'Other – please specify' option for respondents to enter/write in their language. In comparison to Alternative one, this module will use less space in the collection instrument and may increase respondent burden and coding costs.

Q. Which language [do you] [does the person] [does (name)] [will (name of child under two years)] mainly speak at home?

Minimum question module

The minimum question module is suitable for collections where there is no requirement for detailed language data. It can be used to identify whether assistance in accessing services and information, due to inadequate English language skills, is required.

Q. Which language [do you] [does the person] [does (name)] [will (name of child under two years)] mainly speak at home?

Select one option only.

Processing the data

Coding

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) language variables are coded using the Australian Standard Classification of Languages (ASCL), 2016 (ABS catalogue number 1267.0).

Detailed information about the criteria used to develop the structure of ASCL is available in the 'Building the Classification' page of ASCL.

Where practicable, it is recommended that data be collected, classified and stored at the most detailed level of the classification. This:

  • allows greater flexibility for the output of data
  • enables more detailed and complex analysis, and
  • facilitates comparisons with historical data and data from other sources.
     

Input categories for detailed data

The standard categories for collecting Main Language Spoken at Home using the detailed question module are the 4-digit categories in ASCL, including the supplementary codes.

Input categories for minimum data

The standard categories for collecting Main Language Spoken at Home using the minimum question module are:

  • English, and
  • Other language.
     

Coding index

Coding indexes are tools that support categorisation of information against a statistical classification and contain terms that are not officially recognised (e.g. synonyms and misspelt terms). A coding index may be of use to anyone seeking to code responses to a statistical classification and may be requested by contacting standards@abs.gov.au.

All responses to questions about language that are coded to ASCL use the coding rules detailed on the 'Index for Coding Responses' page of the publication. Responses are matched with entries in an ASCL coding index to determine the correct classification code.

Presenting the data

Output categories

Output categories for detailed data

The hierarchical structure of the Australian Standard Classification of Languages (ASCL), 2016 (ABS catalogue number 1267.0) allows users the flexibility to produce statistics at the level of the classification which best suits information needs.

Requirements for data quality or respondent confidentiality may preclude output of data at the more detailed level of the classification. Under these circumstances, data can be aggregated and disseminated at the higher levels of ASCL.

Output categories for minimum data

The standard output categories for the minimum question module are: 

  • English, and
  • Other language.
     

Appendix A - explanatory script

Why is the question asked?

Questions on Main Language Spoken at Home are asked because data obtained can be used as an indicator of English proficiency. When implemented in administrative and service settings, data related to this variable may be used to assess, measure and monitor service needs.

This explanatory script outlines personal interview and self-enumeration procedures for recording Main Language Spoken at Home data from the detailed and minimum question modules.

Detailed question module - alternative one

Interview-based questionnaires

The interviewer selects the option for the language the respondent identifies as the main language spoken. If the respondent identifies a language not in the option list, the interviewer enters/writes the name of the identified language in the 'Other - please specify' category. The interviewer should prompt the respondent if they name more than one language as mainly spoken at home.

Self-enumerated questionnaires

The respondent indicates the main language spoken by selecting one option in the list. If the language identified is not in the list, the respondent can enter/write the language in the 'Other - please specify' category. 

Detailed question module - alternative two

Interview-based questionnaires

The interviewer is instructed to select the 'English' option if the respondent identifies that English is the main language spoken at home. If the respondent identifies a different language the interviewer can enter/write the name of the language in the 'Other - please specify' category. The interviewer should prompt the respondent if they name more than one language as mainly spoken at home. 

Self-enumerated questionnaires

The respondent selects the 'English' option if they identify that English is the main language spoken at home. If a different language is identified by them, they enter/write the name of the language in the 'Other - please specify' category. 

Minimum question module

Interview-based questionnaires

The interviewer selects the 'English' option if the respondent identifies that English is the main language spoken at home. If the respondent identifies a different language the interviewer selects the 'Other' option. 

Self-enumerated questionnaires

The respondent selects the 'English' option if they identify that English is the main language spoken at home. The respondent selects the 'Other' option if they identify that another language is spoken at home.

Proficiency in spoken English

Background

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has developed standards for a number of language variables for use when collecting language data.

Australia's main language is English. However, in 2011, nearly one in five Australians over the age of five spoke a language other than English at home.

The Proficiency in Spoken English variable is used to measure a person's self-assessed ability to speak English. The variable applies to people:

  • whose first language spoken is a language other than English, or
  • who speak a language other than English at home.
     

The language a person can speak may be an important part of their culture, identity and well-being. However, for people living in Australia a lack of proficiency in spoken English may impact a person's access to employment, education and other government and non-government services.

Introduction

Name of standard

This is the Proficiency in Spoken English standard.

Definitions

Nominal definition

Nominally, Proficiency in Spoken English is defined as the ability to speak English in everyday situations. 

Operational definition

Operationally, Proficiency in Spoken English is defined as the self-assessed level of ability to speak English, asked of people whose first language spoken is a language other than English or who speak a language other than English at home.

The definition of language is provided in the Australian Standard Classification of Languages (ASCL), 2016 (ABS catalogue number 1267.0).

Discussion of issues

While social surveys cannot measure proficiency in spoken English with the same degree of precision as formal tests, Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) pilot testing of this question prior to the 1981 Census of Population and Housing assessed the degree of correspondence between self-assessed proficiency and a formal test of English proficiency. There was an overall correspondence between the numbers with low test ratings and those reporting their ability as 'Not Well' or 'Not at All', indicating that the variable provides a reasonably reliable measure of the number of people who may be in need of targeted services.

In most ABS surveys, a question on Proficiency in Spoken English is asked only of respondents whose first language spoken is a language other than English, or those who speak a language other than English at home. This is because the variable is used primarily to identify people who may experience disadvantage as a result of a lack of competence in spoken English.

People who use sign languages are usually not asked for their Proficiency in Spoken English.

Proficiency in Spoken English is one of five ABS language variable. The other language variables are First Language Spoken, Languages Spoken at Home, Main Language Other Than English Spoken at Home and Main Language Spoken at Home.

Collection of variable data

Scope

Statistical units

Proficiency in Spoken English is an attribute of the statistical unit 'person'. The variable Proficiency in Spoken English applies to all persons who do not speak English as their first language or who speak a language other than English at home.

Question modules

The Proficiency in Spoken English question should be asked after a language question which identifies people who speak a language other than English. This can be done using the following variables: 

  • First Language Spoken
  • Languages Spoken at Home
  • Main Language Other Than English Spoken at Home
  • Main Language Spoken at Home
     

For more information on each variable, refer to their respective 'Collection of variable data' page.

The question modules may be accompanied by a brief explanatory note about why Proficiency in Spoken English is collected. The explanatory note can be included with the chosen question module or in supplementary documentation. The recommended text for the explanatory note is in Appendix A.

Standard question modules

There are two standard question modules for collecting Proficiency in Spoken English: 

  • self-enumerated surveys, and
  • survey conducted by interview.
     

Self-enumerated surveys

Q. How well [do you] [does the person] speak English?

Interview-based surveys

Q. Do you consider [you speak] [(name) speaks] English very well, well, not well or not at all?

As a respondent won't see the response options in interview-based surveys, they are included in the question.

Processing the data

Coding

The standard classification is a flat (or single-level) classification consisting of four categories and their associated codes:

1   Very well

2   Well

3   Not well

4   Not at all
 

Standard input categories

The standard categories for collecting Proficiency in Spoken English contain the categories of the classification plus two supplementary categories: 'Not stated/Inadequately described' and 'Not applicable' and their associated codes:

1   Very well

2   Well

3   Not well

4   Not at all

0   Not stated/Inadequately described

9   Not applicable
 

The 'Not stated/Inadequately described' supplementary code is used for responses that are not stated or are ambiguous in the context of the standard classification and cannot be accurately coded to any of the four categories in the classification.

The 'Not applicable' supplementary code is used for respondents who did not speak a language other than English for their first language spoken and/or do not speak a language other than English at home.

Presenting the data

Output categories

The standard output categories are the same as the input categories of the classification and include the supplementary categories and their associated codes, if applicable:

  • Very well
  • Well
  • Not well
  • Not at all
  • Not stated/Inadequately described
  • Not applicable
     

Output categories are often aggregated as follows:

  • Well or Very well
  • Not well or Not at all
  • Not stated/Inadequately described
  • Not applicable
     

Appendix A - explanatory script

Why is the question asked?

Questions on Proficiency in Spoken English are asked because data obtained can be used to assess, measure and monitor service needs, especially for those lacking proficiency in English.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics recommends the question on Proficiency in Spoken English is asked only of respondents whose first language spoken was a language other than English, or those who speak a language other than English at home. The question aims to collect the data based on the self-assessed view of respondents about how well they can conduct a conversation in English about everyday things.

Abbreviations

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ABSAustralian Bureau of Statistics
ASCLAustralian Standard Classification of Languages

History of changes

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15/06/2018 – this release updates the detailed question module response order in the First Language Spoken, Languages Spoken at Home, Main Language Other Than English Spoken at Home, and Main Language Spoken at Home variables based on the results of the 2016 Census.

31/03/2017 – this release removes references to a coding index that was previously included with the Australian Standard Classification of Languages (ASCL), 2016 (ABS catalogue number 1267.0) and states it is available on request.

Previous catalogue number

This release previously used catalogue number 1200.0.55.005.