Languages in Australia
Australia is now one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world due to waves of migration over the past 200 years. More than 200 languages other than English are being spoken at home by people representing over 150 different cultures. It is important to recognise the significance of family heritage languages of culturally and linguistically diverse people along side the importance of learning Australian Standard English.
Speaking more than one language is shown to enhance empathy and break down barriers between cultures and races. Speaking more than one language not only gives individuals greater ability to articulate themselves in different ways and opens up broader opportunities to socialise, travel and work.
Before European settlement in 1788, it is estimated there were 250 languages with 700 dialects being spoken by Australia’s First Nations. There are some differing opinions between linguists in regards to how many Indigenous languages are alive today, but it is believed that roughly 20 are in regular use and being spoken by children (A. Schmidt 1990).
According to ‘Aboriginal languages of Central Australia‘, a paper published by the Director of National Parks 2009 “It is estimated that of the approximate 250 pre-contact languages about 160 are lost or almost entirely lost (A. Schmidt 1990). Of these languages, about 100 have half a dozen speakers or fewer (Blake 1981).”
It is recognised that language is critical to an individual’s ability to express themselves, identify with their culture and community and find their place in the world. Initiatives are taking place nationwide to revive and maintain First Nation languages, and to pass this on to our children.
For many Indigenous Australians, Aboriginal English is their first or second language. It is common, particularly in remote communities for people to speak two or more languages. Aboriginal English developed over time to replace dialects or languages that had become lost to maintain communication across different tribes, language groups and also with non-indigenous Australians. Torres Straight Creole has a similar origin and is also still spoken today between differing Torres Strait Language groups. Aboriginal English and Torres Strait Creole languages are significant indicators of identity for First Nation Australians.