Culture

Census 2016: The communities where five languages are common

Australia's language diversity hotspots, where five different languages are common in a single small area, have been revealed by new Census data.

Regents Park is one of Australia's language diversity hotspots.

The mostly residential suburb ten kilometres west of Sydney's CBD is home to large populations of five different language groups. 

Across Australia, English is the only language spoken at home by 73 per cent of the population. Mandarin (2.5 per cent of people), Arabic (1.4%), Cantonese (1.2%) and Vietnamese (1.2%) are the next most common languages.

But in Regents Park, the proportions are very different.

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One in four people (26 per cent) reported speaking only English at home. The shares of Arabic (13%), Cantonese (10%), Mandarin (9%) and Vietnamese (7%) speakers are much higher than the national level.

Only nine other areas in the country have a similarly diverse language makeup: at least five per cent of residents in each of five different language groups. 

Three other hotspots are also in Sydney: the areas of Narwee-Beverly Hills, Bexley and Kingsgrove (South)-Bardwell Park, which are adjacent to each other in the city's south.

Five are in Melbourne: Bulleen and its neighbour Templestowe Lower in the north-east, Lalor and adjacent Thomastown in the north, and Springvale in the south-east. One, Runcorn, is in south Brisbane.

Adama Kamara, a capacity building coordinator at Cumberland Council who works with people in and around Regents Park, said language diversity enriched life in the suburb.

"It’s all about having a diverse group of people in your neighbourhood, not just everyone who looks like you, talks like you, has the same experience as you - that adds to your experience of life."

Regents Park residents
Many Regents Park residents frequent the programs and services offered at the newly opened Berala Community Centre.
Cumberland Council

But she said there were both challenges and benefits for the council - and residents - in a linguistically diverse community. For example, costs of multilingual staff and translation are higher in Cumberland Council than in others, and greater awareness of language difference is needed by all staff.

"For us when we’re trying to engage or provide a service we’ve got to think about what’s the best way to do that,” she said.

"Do our staff know how to use an interpreter service, do we have multilingual staff, are we available at different times, are we being culturally sensitive when we’re communicating with them - those are the considerations we need to make.”

Out of 2163 small areas in Australia, 1739 - four out of five - no single language apart from English is spoken at home by more than five per cent of residents.

More than 94 per cent of residents of Yackandandah in north-east Victoria, West Wallsend-Barnsley-Killingworth near Newcastle, and Turners Beach-Forth and Cambridge in Tasmania reported they spoke only English at home.

Making language diversity work

Hani Ibrahim, owner of the Smart Cookies Early Learning Centre in Sefton, adjacent to Regents Park, said the kids in the area have benefited from growing up in a diverse environment.

"We talk about traditional food, traditional costumes, traditions, and they use words form different backgrounds,” he said.

"The mix of the children in one room together, and the normal conversations between them, adds value to the sharing of traditions, sharing of information, sharing of language between them."

Mr Ibrahim regularly welcomes children with little or no English skill, and he relies on his multilingual staff and, where needed, additional state government-funded language educators.

"What I’m mindful of is the communication barrier - whether the child is able to communicate with their educator with certain needs and wants,” he said.

"If we find the child is not settled, for example they always cry, that’s when we make that call for additional language support.”

The proportion of people across Australia who spoke only English at home declined to 73 per cent in 2016, down from 77 per cent in 2011.

Households where a non-English language is spoken rose almost two percentage points in the same period, to 22 per cent.

The statistical areas used in this story are SA2s, small areas used by the ABS to represent communities that interact socially and economically. Areas with fewer than 1000 residents have been omitted. Only the top 13 languages - English, Mandarin, Arabic, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Italian, Greek, Hindi, Spanish, Punjabi, Tagalog, Korean, German - have been analysed.

The Census data in 60 seconds
The Census data in 60 seconds