Australia is becoming an increasingly multilingual nation, with the 2006 census recording 16.8 per cent of the population speaking a language other than English (LOTE) in their homes, compared with 14.8 per cent in 1991 and 16.2 per cent in 2001. In Australia's largest two cities the proportion is even greater, with 31.4 per cent of Sydneysiders and 27.9 per cent of Melbournians speaking a LOTE at home. The proportion is rising somewhat faster in Sydney (up 2.2 per cent from 2001) than in Melbourne (a rise of one per cent over the same period). As in previous censuses since 1986 these statistics underestimate the actual use of LOTEs, excluding as they do people who do not have anyone to speak to at home and those who speak a LOTE regularly but not in their own home.
It is not clear how many languages are actually used because of the way in which the question on languages is processed by the census, with a number of umbrella categories in place such as 'Finnish and Related Languages, not elsewhere classified', 'Other Southeast Asian languages' or, in the Indigenous context, 'Northern River Fringe languages' and 'Kimberley Area Languages'. It would appear however that there are between 350 and 400 languages currently spoken in Australia, including 150 to 155 indigenous ones. The 2006 census has processed individually far more indigenous languages than in 2001, when only 64 were recorded. The most widely used are Arrente (2834 home users), Pidjintjatjara (2657) and Walpiri (2507).
The most widely used individual community languages in Australia are still Italian and Greek, brought to Australia in the wake of World War II and before the resumption (1) of large-scale migration from Asia in the 1970s. Due among other things to the stronger specialisation of manufacturing in Victoria during this period, Melbourne attracted more immigrants than Sydney and both languages (but particularly Greek) continue to be more strongly represented in Melbourne. The next most widely spoken languages nationally in 2006 were Cantonese, Arabic, and Mandarin, all of which are spoken at home by more than 200,000 people, and Vietnamese, which has 195,000 home users (see Table 1). Just below the 100,000 mark is Spanish, followed by Tagalog/Filipino, (2) German, and Hindi. Of this group, only German could be characterised as a post-war language, which have as a group been declining in strength since 1991. Over the same period of time massive increases have been seen in the use of Mandarin (305 per cent), Hindi (208 per cent), Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino, Arabic, and Indonesian. Sydney has been the focus of much of this newer migration and is home to the highest national proportions of speakers of languages such as Mandarin, Korean, Filipino and Arabic (see below).
Table 1: Top 20 languages spoken at home in Australia in 2006 (Indigenous languages given as a total) Top 20 languages Speakers Speakers per cent change in 2006 in 1991 in 2006 since 1991 1 Italian 418,801 316,893 -24.3 2 Greek 285,702 252,222 -11.7 3 Cantonese 162,899 244,554 50.1 4 Arabic 162,855 243,662 49.6 5 Mandarin 54,537 220,596 304.5 6 Vietnamese 110,185 194,858 76.8 7 Spanish 90,477 97,998 8.3 8 Tagalog/Filipino 59,109 92,330 56.2 9 German 113,335 75,634 -33.3 10 Hindi 22,727 70,013 208.1 11 Macedonian 64,428 67,831 5.3 12 Croatian 63,081 63,615 0.8 13 Austn Indigenous 45,196 55,698 23.2 13 Korean 19,756 54,619 176.5 15 Turkish 41,966 53,858 28.3 16 Polish 66,933 53,390 -20.2 17 Serbian 24,336 52,534 115.9 18 French 45,496 43,219 -5.0 19 Indonesian 29,803 42,038 41.1 20 Persian n.a. 37,155 Many of the languages with large increases are ones considered of economic importance to Australia and prioritised in schools, although the languages of some large community groups (Vietnamese and Filipino, for example) are still underrepresented in the school systems. (3) Currently available census data do not enable us to assess how many of the increases result from international students. The ongoing trend since 1991 would suggest that by 2011 Mandarin and Arabic will both have more...