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Do Some Australians Speak Bad English?

In 2018, Senator Pauline Hanson surprised many when she talked about preserving the Australian way of life in her speech. She mentioned that over a million Australian residents didn’t know how to speak English.

Is there some truth to it, and why is it essential for someone in Australia, particularly those involved in a business, to learn the language?

The Part Truth

A few days after, The Conversation fact-checked this claim, and the findings were it could be partly true.

The basis of the senator’s statement was a 2016 Australia Bureau of Statistics Census. In the survey, the respondents needed to indicate their English proficiency level, which ranged from not at all to well or very well.

Based on the responses, over 800,000 said they didn’t speak the language well or not at all. This figure was much higher than fewer than 600,000 ten years before.

The senator’s team then added at least 66,000 more, assuming that the increase of non-English speakers was the same between certain periods. They also assigned 10% of those who didn’t respond as possibly Australian residents who couldn’t speak English well or not at all.

The website called .idcommunity also used the same data to report the number of Aussies with low English proficiency. According to it, about 3.5% of the respondents spoke another language or didn’t speak the country’s language at all. The percentage was also higher in greater capital cities.

Many factors have contributed to the growing number of non-English speakers. One of these is the growing diverse population due to migration.

In 2019, the ABS revealed that at least 7.5 million people living in Australia were migrants. It then meant that nearly 30% of the population were actually born outside the country.

Thus, 2.5% of the people in Australia now speak Mandarin, while 1.4% know Arabic. The rest use Cantonese, Vietnamese, and Italian. The languages of the indigenous peoples account for less than a percent.

However, as pointed out by The Conversation, the survey was self-reported, making it more subjective than objective. Respondents can have different criteria on how they assess their level of English proficiency.

Moreover, English remains the primary language, spoken by at least 70% of the Australian population as of 2016. Many migrants are also learning it through professionals like a Sydney English tutor or external exposure like in the workplace or at school.

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But Why Is It Essential to Learn to Speak the Language?

The benefits of learning to speak in English go beyond faster assimilation. It can impact positively one’s business activities:

1. Most Trading Partners of Australians Speak in English

Although the country’s top three biggest trading partners are non-English speakers, most use the language to communicate. These include the UK, the United States, New Zealand, Thailand, Singapore, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, and even Germany.

In fact, except for China, the biggest export consumers were from countries whose people know or were born to speak English. These are Vietnam, Singapore, and the UK, whose year-over-year export consumption rose by over 190%.

2. Accents Can Affect or Influence Customer Experience and Behaviour

Some studies suggest that hearing a foreign or even a regional accent could impact the experience or behavior of a consumer.

Take, for example, the 2014 research involving Australian and Indian service employees. According to the analysis, accents themselves don’t affect the customer experience.

However, if the customer is already in a negative affective state (such as unhappy or in a bad mood), hearing the accent could worsen the situation or feeling. The same thing could happen if the foreign customer service employee were incompetent.

In a 2015 research, the team conducted a cognitive test where participants could choose to either compete or cooperate with a randomly selected individual according to the accent they heard.

The results revealed that the subjects usually chose to cooperate with those who might speak their regional accent and compete with those who didn’t. In turn, it’s possible that another person’s accent could influence buying decisions or promote social discrimination.

3. Transactions Are in English

Whether a person decides to do business online or offline, they need to accomplish a lot of paperwork. In Australia, virtually all are in English.

While they can hire a translator, the process can become more time-consuming and expensive. They might not be able to rely on such a service in certain situations.

Overall, diversity is great since it allows cultures to learn from one another. But learning to speak the country’s language is just as essential to help one maximize the benefits it can offer.

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