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What is CALD? A Comprehensive Guide to CALD Communities

Australia is a multicultural country, with people from all over the world calling it home. According to the 2021 Census, 27.7% of Australians were born overseas, and 22.3% spoke a language other than English at home.

One term that frequently arises in discussions about this diversity is CALD, or Culturally and Linguistically Diverse. Despite its common usage, the interpretation of CALD isn’t always straightforward. Often, people who come across this term may ask What does CALD mean?

In the following blog post, we will explore the meaning of CALD in more detail. We will also discuss the challenges and opportunities that CALD communities face, and we will offer some suggestions for how we can build a more inclusive society.

What is CALD?

What is CALD Culturally and Linguistically Diverse

CALD is the acronym for ‘Culturally and Linguistically Diverse‘ or ‘Cultural and Linguistic Diversity’.

It’s a term widely utilised in Australia, particularly in Government, to denote individuals who have cultural backgrounds different from the majority or ‘Anglo-Celtic’ Australian culture. This includes individuals and communities who communicate in languages other than English, either exclusively or alongside English.

The term is particularly significant in sectors such as health, education, and community services, where understanding and addressing the unique needs and challenges of CALD communities is paramount. This diversity includes a broad range of experiences and identities, from migrant communities and refugees to long-established cultural groups.

What counts as a CALD background?

What counts as a CALD background?

Identifying what qualifies as a CALD background can be complex, given the inherent diversity and nuances within CALD communities. However, the term generally encompasses communities with diverse languages, ethnic backgrounds, nationalities, traditions, societal structures, and religions.

A widely used definition refers to CALD as those born overseas, in countries other than those classified by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) as ‘main English speaking countries’. These countries include Australia, Canada, Republic of Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.

This definition acknowledges that people born in these main English-speaking countries may still identify with another culture or country and may face language and other barriers when interacting with government departments and service providers.

The history of CALD in Australia

The history of CALD in Australia

The term CALD, representing Culturally and Linguistically Diverse communities, started to be used more broadly in the 1970s and 1980s as Australia’s policies began to shift towards multiculturalism and as the country started to see more significant immigration from non-English-speaking countries.

  • Post-World War II: The influx of primarily European immigrants dramatically diversified Australia’s cultural landscape.
  • 1970s: The government officially endorsed multiculturalism, and the term CALD started to gain momentum, encapsulating Australia’s burgeoning cultural and linguistic diversity.
  • 1990s & Beyond: With an increase in immigrants from Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, CALD became a mainstay term in public policy, highlighting communities with diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

How common is the term CALD?

CALD Google Trends

The usage of the term CALD has also grown due to its convenience as a collective term for those working to improve the experiences of migrant communities, providing a unified way to reference this diverse cohort in discussions, policies, and initiatives.

As you can see in the above image, according to Google Trends, interest in the term CALD has risen steadily since 2008 and is often used amongst policy and communications professionals working to address challenges faced by multicultural communities in Australia.

Is the term CALD appropriate?

In recent years, the term CALD has faced increasingly levels of criticism about it’s appropriateness. Whilst the term has been effective in driving policies and services that cater to diverse cultural and linguistic needs, there are also some criticisms about it’s appropriateness in modern day Australia.

The usage of the term CALD has also grown due to its convenience as a collective term for those working to improve the experiences of migrant communities, providing a unified way to reference this diverse cohort in discussions, policies, and initiatives.

While the term CALD is widely used in government policy and service provision in Australia, it’s important to note that individuals from these communities rarely personally identify as ‘CALD’; instead, they tend to identify more with their specific cultural or national heritage.

Here are some of the common criticism of the term CALD in Australia:

  • Homogenization of diverse communities: Some critics argue that the term CALD can unintentionally homogenize diverse communities, potentially overlooking the distinct experiences, needs, and challenges within these groups. Take for example, recent migrants from India compared to Post-World War II migrants from Europe.
  • Implied homogeneity of Anglo-Celtic Australians: By defining CALD communities in contrast to mainstream or ‘Anglo-Celtic’ Australian culture, there’s an implicit suggestion that Anglo-Celtic Australians lack cultural or linguistic diversity. This perspective can overlook the fact that Anglo-Celtic Australians also have diverse cultural roots and varied experiences.
  • Misinterpretation: There is also a risk that the term can be misunderstood or misused, leading to stereotyping or inappropriate generalisations about diverse communities.

Should we still use CALD?

Style Manual - CALD

Given the various critiques and considerations surrounding the term CALD, one might wonder if it is still appropriate to use. In the Australian Government’s Style Manual, which provides guidance on writing and editing for clear and effective communication, the term CALD is recognised and its usage is accepted. This affirms its place in official discourse and policy.

However, the Style Manual also emphasises respect for all Australians, regardless of their cultural or linguistic backgrounds. Moreover, suggests to Speak to the person, not their difference, suggesting that writers:

Use inclusive language. You can use the general term ‘multicultural communities’ to write about people from different cultural backgrounds.

People writing for government sometimes use the term ‘culturally and linguistically diverse’ (CALD) communities. Avoid using the acronym unless you’re speaking to a specialist audience.

Therefore, while CALD may be a useful term to use when speaking internally, it’s important to avoid using it when addressing or speaking to multicultural communities. Instead, you should address the audience where possible. For example, the Style Manual gives an example of addressing a particular community as “the Japanese-Australian community”.

How to Communicate with People from CALD Backgrounds

Effective communication is the cornerstone of building strong, respectful relationships with individuals from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse backgrounds. Here are some strategies to enhance your communication with CALD communities:

  1. Language Considerations: If English is not their first language, ensure your communication is clear and easily understandable. Avoid using jargon, idioms, or colloquialisms that may be confusing. Providing translated materials or using professional interpreting services can also be beneficial.
  2. Provision of Information in Native Languages: One of the most effective ways to ensure clear communication is by providing information in an individual’s native language wherever possible. This may involve translating written materials, as well as audio and video content.
  3. Cultural Sensitivity: Recognise and respect cultural differences. This includes understanding different customs, behaviours, and communication styles. Do some research or engage cultural consultants to understand the cultural nuances of the communities you’re interacting with.
  4. Inclusivity: Endeavour to include people from CALD backgrounds in decision-making processes. This can empower them and make them feel valued.
  5. Cultural Competency Training: Consider participating in cultural competency training. This can provide valuable insights into different cultural practices and enhance your ability to communicate effectively with CALD communities.

What is Community Translation?

In Australia, community translation refers to the translation of written material that helps to facilitate clear and accurate communication between public services and people who do not speak English well in Australia.

The types of organisations that typically engage community translation services are:

  • Federal & State Government departments, agencies or bodies
  • Local Government (local council)
  • Not for Profit (NFP) organisations
  • Community organisations
  • Peak bodies & advocacy groups; or
  • any other organisation that derives some level of funding from the Government.

The Purpose of Community Translation

Typically, the types of texts that community translation projects include are communications material. The purpose of translating this material into other languages is to improve access to information who don’t speak English well. By doing this, organisations are enabling multicultural communities in Australia to integrate and participate in Australian society.

Top 10 Languages Spoken in Australia

Rank Language Speakers
1 Mandarin 685,268
2 Arabic 367,154
3 Vietnamese 320,760
4 Cantonese 295,292
5 Punjabi 239,033
6 Greek 229,643
7 Italian 228,042
8 Tagalog/Filipino 199,662
9 Hindi 175,260
10 Spanish 143,709

One of the most talked-about topics in this engagement community is the infamous Top 10 Languages spoken in Australia. 

Top 10 Languages

Making Information Accessible

Information should be provided in languages that are easily understood by people with diverse backgrounds. These are often done via Plain Language or Easy English.

What is ‘Plain Language’?

Sometimes called Plain Writing or Plain English, Plain Language is a communication where an audience easily and clearly understands ideas the first time they hear or read them.

However, a language that is plain to someone might not be true for another. As such, a language is considered to be plain if the audience can easily:

  • find what they need
  • understand it
  • use the information they find to meet their needs

Plain language is often achieved with the use of short sentences, active voice, pronouns, logical organisation, common words and easy-to-read designs.

What is ‘Easy English’?

Easy English is a writing style that’s developed to provide concise and understandable information to people with low English literacy. This includes those who have intellectual disabilities and limitations on writing and reading words. The key features of Easy English include:

  • minimal punctuation
  • simplified grammar and language
  • easy to read font, design and layout
  • short and simple  sentences

What’s the difference between ‘Plain Language’ and ‘Easy English’?

Plain Language and Easy English have a lot of similarities. However, they are also different especially in terms of understanding your audience and their needs.

Plain Language is used when you want to reach people who have reasonable literacy skills to find their way around a printed document or a website, and understand your topic clearly.

On the other hand, Easy English is best used when you want to reach people with disability, low English literacy, older people or people with English as their second language. Easy English leans more on technical writing style, consumer feedback and clinical practice.

Though Easy English and Plain Language are quite similar in the sense that they’re both easy to understand and concise, Easy English follows very specific grammatical rules and often includes images to help support the key messages.

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