There is no official language in Australia. However Australian English is regarded as the non-official national language. English is the mode of education, government, and judiciary. So if you are wondering ‘What language does Australia speak?’ then English would be an accurate answer. But along with English, Australia has more than 200 languages spoken within its borders. Moreover, a staggering number of Aboriginal languages spoken in Australia have been lost in time. Taking into account popular Aboriginal languages they have few speakers left.
The country has gone through different immigration phases. For a long time, Asians were not allowed to file for citizenship due to a white-only policy. This racist policy was revoked in the 1950s after which an influx of Asian migrants became part of the country. Currently Mandarin and Punjabi are the most commonly spoken non-English languages in Australia. Hundreds of languages are spoken in Australia and many are Abroginal on the verge of extinction. So, let’s talk about the top 10 most spoken Australian languages.
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What Languages Are Spoken in Australia?
The current Australian population has more than 270 different groups of ethnicity. However, the Australian population was mostly of British or European descent only a century ago. Even back then the Chinese population had immigrated to Australia in large groups. However, they were only allowed to immigrate as a cheap source of labor for agriculture. Things now are very different, people from all corners of the world migrate to Australia. Certain groups more than others and today we will highlight the 10 most common Australian languages.
Almost 75% of the Australian populace speaks English at home. This is a remarkable number of English speakers. However, no official form of English is followed by the population. Hence, spelling in both British English and American English is often used for example labor/labour. In comparison, British English is more similar to Australian English. People in Australia have their own slang for instance globe means bulb, crook means Ill, ring means top performer, and etc. The use of vowels o or e are also common in the slang such as refugee would be called reffo. Suffixes are also common in slang, such as football is footy or Christmas is Chrissy.
The second most spoken Australian language is Mandarin. Over 3% of the Australian population speak Mandarin as their primary language. Moreover, the use of the language is not defined by any particular region. The Cantonese dialect is the most commonly spoken Mandarin dialect. However, it is interesting to note that the growth of Mandarin speakers has declined significantly in the last decade. Notably, there has only been an increase of 50,000 to 60,000 Mandarin speakers in the last decade.
About 1.5% of the Australian population speaks Arabic. A language regarded as the 5th most spoken language with 230 million native speakers. Arabic is the language of Islam and for that reason is studied by millions of Australian Muslims. Moreover, a large number of immigrants and students come to Australia from the Middle East. Currently, Arabic is the third most spoken language in Australia. Unlike Mandarin, the growth of Arabic is faster compared to the population sizes.
About 1.3-1.5% of the Australian population speaks Vietnamese as their first language. The language is closely tied with Arabic as the third most spoken language in Australia. The Vietnamese community is very fond of their heritage and language. They actively preserve the language for their future generations to learn from. However, the efforts are not that successful as of recently given how the younger generation is not that fond of their past.
Greek is still in the top 10 list of most spoken languages in Australia at number six. However, we may see it drop a few places in the future. The number of Greek speakers is constantly declining. You can owe it to the fact that most Greek-speaking immigrants came a few decades ago. They have spent generations in Australia and the younger generation is more fond of English since it is more useful. Still, 0.9% of the Australian population speaks Greek as their native language.
Australian Italians speak a unique Italo-Australian dialect that has its roots in Australia. About 0.9% of the Australian population are Italian speakers. Certain cities such as Sydney and Melbourne have more Italian speakers. However certain immigration patterns can change that. Looking at the stats it is safe to assume that the number of Italian speakers in Australia has declined.
Hindi and Urdu share many words and can be recognized by speakers alike. However, the written script and dialect are different. But since the language in spoken terms is so similar we will consider both. In recent times there has been a considerable rise in the number of Hindi speakers in Australia. Punjabi experienced a growth of over 80% in the last five years, Punjabi speakers are often Hindi speakers as well. Nearly 50% of speakers have foreign parents and most are of Indian origin.
No doubt Hindi has many speakers but Punjabi is rapidly overtaking them in numbers. A vast majority of immigrants who come from India are asylum seekers. The political ideology of Khalistan is one of the major factors of conflict in their regions. Moreover, a large number of students also come to Australia and eventually settle down. Western Australia will most likely add Punjabi as a language of study in their University. Currently, Punjabi is the fastest-growing language in Australia.
A large number of Filipino refugees and immigrants moved to Australia during the 1950s. Hence, it only makes sense that 4.6% of Australian ancestry is Filipino. However, the number of speakers is constantly declining. The younger generations have no interest in learning the language.
Spanish is spoken by 0.7-0.9% of the Australian population. It ranks as the 7th most commonly spoken language in Australia. You can find radio shows and TV shows in Spanish. The community is very vibrant and lives in the main cities mostly. Melbourne and Sydney have the most Spanish speakers. More than 100,000 Australians are from partial Spanish ancestry.
The area of Australia became populated some 50-60 thousand years ago. There is a distinct possibility that their ancestral indigenous languages are 12 thousand years old. More than 250 Aboriginal languages existed when Europe first discovered the large island. A recent survey proved that 120+ languages are still in use or are being revived. However, almost 70 are endangered of being extinct. In 2021 survey showed that 160+ indigenous languages are being spoken by 77 thousand Australians.
Here are the most spoken Aboriginal languages:
- Yumplatok (7,596)
- Kriol (7,403)
- Djambarrpuyngu (3,839)
- Pitjantjatjara (3,399)
- Warlpiri (2,592)
- Murrinh Patha (2,063)
- Tiwi (2,053)
Some 10 thousand Australians speak an Aboriginal language that can’t be classified or defined.
What Languages Are Taught in Australia?
The main language of education in Australia is English. Other notable languages that can easily studied are Auslan, Chinese, French, Arabic, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Greek, Turkish, Spanish, and Vietnamese. You can also learn many Aboriginal languages and classical Greek and Latin.
The government of Australia has committed 14 million dollars to teach languages of first Nation countries in primary schools for four years. There are 20 Aboriginal language centers that get funding from the Australian government. Moreover, foreign students often have to study English during their studies.
Other Notable Australian Languages
What was Australia White-Only Policy?
During Australia’s agricultural revolution an influx of Chinese immigrants had entered the country. Hence the Australian government launched the Act of 1901 (Australia’s white only policy). The policy stated that those from a non-British or European background can not enter the country. This law was placed to ensure that Australia’s homogenous white population domination was not altered. To make things more difficult immigration tests were only held in European languages.
By the 1940s only 0.21% of the Australian population consisted of Asians. Which is currently near 20% of the total population. The policy was considered to be both racist and unproductive. Moreover, this policy meant that many skilled workers began lacking in Australia. Moreover, Europeans were not very keen on moving to Australia and this meant that the population would drop considerably if the policy was to remain.
Eventually this policy was revoked and laws became much easier for Asians to migrate with. Today there are more Asian immigrants than European immigrants.
What Does the Future Hold?
Looking at the current patterns we can expect to see a decline in European language speakers. The growth is already starting to look stunted and many European languages’ influence is actually dropping instead of gaining. Asian countries on the other hand are beginning to increase in numbers especially Hindi and Punjabi. Ease of immigration has allowed many third world countries skilled workers and gifted students to immigrate into Australia. We can expect more growth in Asian language speakers. Mandarin was expanding rapidly, however it is on the decline.
Australia is opening up immigration streams. Especially for their low population areas that are away from the sea. Often known as the outback, Australia will see an influx of more Asian immigrants. Moreover, we may see African people avail immigration from the country as a result. Population density shifts are also a possibility. That unique populations may become more dense in certain outback areas as a result of different immigration streams.
Australia is the world’s smallest continent and the largest island. It is the 6th biggest country in the world. The country is widely known for its natural resources, unfamiliar wildlife, tropical weather, beaches, and diversity. As you can see the language spoken in Australia has always highly been influenced by immigration patterns. During the 1800s, and most of the 1900s the all-white immigration policies saw languages like Italian, Spanish, and Greek grow rapidly. But ease in immigration laws saw an influx of Asian immigrants recently. Hence currently the most spoken languages other than English are Asian.