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4725.0 - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Wellbeing: A focus on children and youth, Apr 2011  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 23/05/2012  Reissue
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Contents >> Culture, Heritage and Leisure >> Speaking Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages


CULTURE, HERITAGE AND LEISURE: SPEAKING ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER LANGUAGES

This article is part of a comprehensive series released as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Wellbeing: A focus on children and youth.


Note: In this section 'children' refers to people aged 3–14 years. The terms 'youth' and 'young people' refer to people aged 15–24 years. Data presented are from the ABS National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, 2008 (cat. no. 4714.0).

KEY MESSAGES

In 2008:
  • 8% of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and youth spoke an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language as their main language at home
  • a further 4% of children and youth could speak an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language, but did not speak one as their main language at home
  • of children and youth who did not speak an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language as their main language at home, 16% were currently learning to speak one.

Language is not only a form of communication, it is also a way of expressing and maintaining culture, knowledge and identity. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages convey unique meanings and are central to the survival of cultural knowledge (Endnote1).

SPEAKING ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER LANGUAGES

Of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and youth in 2008:
  • 8% spoke an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language as their main language at home
  • a further 4% could speak an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language, but did not speak one at home
  • 20% spoke some words of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language
  • 67% did not speak an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language.
Children and youth living in remote areas were far more likely than those living in non-remote areas to speak an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language (42% compared with 4%).

Overall, children and youth were less likely than those aged 25 years and over to speak an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language (13% compared with 22%).

2.1 ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER LANGUAGE USE BY REMOTENESS,
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 3–24 years—2008

Graph: Speaking an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language in remote and non-remote areas - 3 - 24 years
(a) Difference between non-remote and remote areas is statistically significant.
(b) Difference between non-remote and remote areas is not statistically significant.

Source: 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey

Young people who spoke an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language at home were asked if they had any difficulties communicating with English speakers. Of the 9% of youth (9,200 people) who spoke an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language as their main language at home, 71% (6,500) had no difficulty communicating with English speakers.

Changes over time

In the 2002 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS), information about children aged 0–14 years was not collected. This means comparisons between 2002 and 2008 can only be made for youth.

Of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth in 2002 (82,700 people), 18% could speak an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language, including 11% who spoke one of these languages as their main language at home. By 2008, there had been a significant decrease in the proportion of Indigenous language speakers to 13%, including 9% who spoke one of these languages as their main language at home.

LEARNING AN ABORIGINAL OR TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER LANGUAGE

In 2008, around one in five (21%) children and 8% of young people, who did not already speak an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language as their main language at home, were learning to speak one.

Children and youth in remote areas were more likely than those in non-remote areas to be learning an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language (33% compared with 12%).

Of the 29,400 children who were learning an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language, many had the opportunity to do so at the school they were attending (41%) and/or were being taught by a parent (40%).

SPOTLIGHT: CHARACTERISTICS OF YOUNG ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER LANGUAGE SPEAKERS IN REMOTE AREAS

In 2008, 47% of young people living in remote areas (10,700) spoke an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language and 53% (12,300 people) did not speak an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language (including 20% who only spoke a few words).

According to the 2008 NATSISS, young people living in remote areas who spoke an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language were less likely than those who did not to:


ENDNOTES

1. Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, National Indigenous Languages Survey Report 2005, Commonwealth of Australia, <www.arts.gov.au>

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