2076.0 - Census of Population and Housing: Characteristics of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2016  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 19/02/2018   
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MAIN LANGUAGE SPOKEN AT HOME AND ENGLISH PROFICIENCY

MAIN LANGUAGE SPOKEN AT HOME

Between 1991 and 2016, the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples reporting English as their main language spoken at home increased from 79 per cent to 84 per cent. In contrast, the proportion of non-Indigenous people who spoke English at home decreased over the same period, from 84 per cent to 77 per cent.

Graph Image for English Spoken at Home by Indigenous Status, Australia, 1991 to 2016

Source(s): ABS Census of Population and Housing 1991,1996, 2001, 2011 and 2016.



Since 1991, the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who reported speaking an Australian Indigenous language at home decreased from 16 per cent to 10 per cent. In the 2016 Census, 63,754 persons reported speaking an Australian Indigenous language at home.

Graph Image for Australian Indigenous Language Spoken at Home, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, Australia, 1991 to 2016

Source(s): ABS Census of Population and Housing 1991,1996, 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016



In 2016, those who identified only as Torres Strait Islanders (20%) were around twice as likely to speak an Australian Indigenous language at home compared to those who identified as both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (11%) and those identifying as Aboriginal only (9%).

There were more than 150 Australian Indigenous languages spoken at home, reflecting the linguistic diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. Of the 10 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (or 63,754 people) who spoke an Australian Indigenous language at home, the largest proportion (18%) spoke Other Australian Indigenous Languages (primarily driven by Kriol speakers), followed by languages from the Arnhem Land and Daly River Region (16%), Torres Strait Island languages (12%), Western Desert languages (11%) and Yolngu Matha languages (11%).

Graph Image for Indigenous Languages Most Spoken at Home, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, Australia, 2016

Source(s): ABS Census of Population and Housing, 2016




A small proportion (10,402 or approximately 2%) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons reported speaking a language other than English or an Australian Indigenous language at home.


Geographic Distribution

In 2016, 9 out of 10 (90%) people in urban areas of Australia spoke English at home, whereas only 1 in 20 (5%) spoke an Australian Indigenous language. In contrast, people usually residing in non-urban areas were much less likely to speak English at home (63%) and much more likely to speak an Australian Indigenous language (29%).

Graph Image for Main Language Spoken at Home by Section of State, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, Australia, 2016

Source(s): ABS Census of Population and Housing, 2016



More than half (60%) of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population living in the Northern Territory reported speaking an Australian Indigenous language in 2016. This was almost 5 times the rate of the next highest state, Western Australia (13%). Only 1 per cent of people living in New South Wales and Victoria spoke an Australian Indigenous language.

Graph Image for Australian Indigenous Language Spoken at Home by State, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, Australia, 2016

Source(s): ABS Census of Population and Housing, 2016



People in non-urban areas were more likely to report speaking an Australian Indigenous language at home. The Northern Territory had significantly more people living in non-urban areas (49%) than the next two states: Western Australia (27%) and Tasmania (27%).

Age and Sex

The overall proportion of males and females who reported speaking an Australian Indigenous language at home was comparable. There was little difference between males and females across age groups.

Graph Image for Australian Indigenous Language (a) Spoken at Home by Age and Sex, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, Australia, 2016

Footnote(s): (a) Excludes persons who did not state English proficiency.

Source(s): ABS Census of Population and Housing, 2016



ENGLISH PROFICIENCY

The majority (63%) of people who spoke a language other than English at home reported they spoke English ‘Very Well’. Similar proportions of males (86%) and females (88%) reported speaking English ‘Well’ or ‘Very Well’. From 65 years onward, reported English proficiency drops considerably for both sexes. Around two thirds of women (59%) aged over 85 years reported they spoke English ‘Well’ or ‘Very Well’ compared to 69% of men.

English proficiency and the Census

For each person who speaks a language other than English at home, this variable classifies their self-assessed proficiency in spoken English.

Responses to the question on proficiency in English are subjective. For example, one respondent may consider that a response of 'Well' is appropriate if they can communicate well enough to do the shopping while another respondent may consider such a response appropriate only for people who can hold a social conversation. Proficiency in spoken English should be regarded as an indicator of a person's ability to speak English rather than a definitive measure of his/her ability and should be interpreted with care.

For people who spoke an Australian Indigenous language as their main language at home, the proportion reporting speaking English ‘Well’ or ‘Very Well’ increased steadily between the 2001 and 2016 Census from 73 per cent to 85 per cent. It also increased from 71 per cent to 77 per cent over the same period for peoples who spoke a language other than English or an Australian Indigenous language at home.

The majority (89%) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over with a Bachelor degree or higher reported speaking English ‘Very well’. This compared to:
    • 80 per cent of those who had attained a Diploma or Advanced Diploma,
    • 74 per cent of those who had obtained a Certificate III or Certificate IV,
    • 58 per cent of those who had attained a Certificate I, Certificate II or Year 12 Certificate or below, and
    • 32 per cent of those who reported achieving no level of educational attainment at all.