Notes on the data: Birthplace & Non-English speaking residents

People aged 5 years and over who were born overseas and reported poor proficiency in English, 2016


Policy context:  For migrants born in predominantly non-English speaking countries, the rate at which they adapt to live in the host country is directly related to the rate at which they achieve proficiency in English. Their proficiency in English has profound implications for the ease with which they are able to access labour markets, develop social networks, become aware of and utilise services, and participate in many aspects of Australian society. Those people who are not proficient in spoken English are less likely to be in full-time employment and more likely not to be in the labour force [1]. From a health service viewpoint, the location of this population group is most relevant in the provision of health services for women, and for older people, who may not have developed English language skills (especially females), or have returned to using the language of their birthplace as they have aged (both females and males).

In Australia, there were over 300 separately identified languages spoken at home in 2016. While English remained the main language spoken, Census data showed that more than one-fifth (21%) of Australians spoke a language other than English at home. Mandarin remained the next most commonly spoken language (2.5% of the total population), but there have been increases in the proportion of the population speaking Hindi (from 0.5% to 0.7%) and Punjabi (from 0.3% to 0.6%) [2].

Of the overseas-born people who had arrived in the past 25 years, 11% either did not speak English well, or at all in 2016. For earlier migrants (those arriving before 1991) this number was lower, at 8.3%.


  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Perspectives on migrants, 2007. (ABS Cat. no. 3416.0). Canberra: ABS; 2008.
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Cultural diversity in Australia - Reflecting Australia: Stories from the Census, 2016. (ABS Cat. no. 2071.0). Canberra: ABS; 2017 [accessed 10 August 2017]. Available from:

Notes:  The data comprise people born overseas who reported speaking English 'not well' or 'not at all'.

The numerator excludes the 0.8% of the population (this percentage varies across States/Territories) aged five years and over born overseas who did not state their language (other than English) spoken, or their proficiency in English: however, these records are included in the denominator.


Geography:  Data available by Population Health Area, Local Government Area, Primary Health Network, Quintile of socioeconomic disadvantage of area and Remoteness Area


Numerator:  People aged 5 years and over who were born overseas and reported speaking English 'not well' or 'not at all'


Denominator:  Population aged 5 years and over


Detail of analysis:  Percent


Source:  Compiled by PHIDU based on the ABS Census of Population and Housing, August 2016.


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