In 2016, 20.8% of Australians spoke a language other than English at home.

Australia is one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse countries in world. Aside from English, Australians speak an estimated 300+ languages. So, what are the top 10 languages spoken in Australia?

Top 10 Languages Spoken in Australia

Top 10 Languages in Australia

Looking at the top 10 languages spoken in Australia aside from English helps us understand the language needs of an increasingly diverse Australia. The 2016 Census shows that the Chinese and Arabic speaking communities have grown strongly to set atop the list. Because of Australia’s rich cultural diversity, there’s a community need for high-quality translations by NAATI translators.

According to the 2016 Census, the Top 10 Languages Spoken in Australia are:

  1. Mandarin
  2. Arabic
  3. Cantonese
  4. Vietnamese
  5. Italian
  6. Greek
  7. Tagalog/Filipino
  8. Hindi
  9. Spanish
  10. Punjabi
Now let’s compare the 2016 Census data with the 2011 Census. Here are Australia’s Top 10 Languages Spoken at home, excluding English:

Top 10 Languages Spoken in Australia (excluding English)

# Languages 2016 2011
1 Mandarin 596,703 336,178
2 Arabic 321,720 287,171
3 Cantonese 280,943 263,538
4 Vietnamese 277,391 233,388
5 Italian 271,602 299,829
6 Greek 237,583 252,211
7 Tagalog 182,498 136,846
8 Hindi 159,637 111,349
9 Spanish 140,813 117,493
10 Punjabi 132,500 71,231


Specifically looking at the Top 5 Languages spoken in Australia, it’s clear that 3 of the languages (Mandarin, Cantonese and Vietnamese) are representative of languages spoken by many of our close neighbours in Asia. The Arabic language is spoken in a number of regions across the globe whereas Italian is represented due to the huge influx of post-war migrants between 1946 and the 1970s.

Looking at a table of the Top 10 Languages spoken in Australia provides us with limited information. It’s a snapshot; a point in time. We can gain further insights into the changing language needs of Australians by comparing the 2016 Census data against the 2011 data. But let’s go one step further and lets also compare this data against the 2006 and 2001 Census data.

What is clearly evident is that Australia’s language needs are rapidly changing.Languages Spoke at home 2001 to 2016

It shows that from the 23.4m people in Australia, one in four speaks a different language aside from English at home. The English language as spoken at home has decreased from 76.8% in 2011 to 72.7% in 2016.

Meanwhile, the number of people who speak other languages at home has increased. In 2001, there were only around 2.8m people who spoke a language other than English at home. By 2006, the number had increased to 3.1m. In 2011, there were already 3.9m people, and in 2016, there were 4.8m. These figures show that the number of people speaking other languages aside from English has greatly increased by around 1 million to 4.9 million in just a few years.

The list confirms that Australia is a fast-changing, culturally diverse country. Let’s take the Italian language as an example. In the 2001 and 2006 Census, it was at the top of the list – the most spoken language in Australia aside from English. This was largely due to the huge influx of migration from Italy in the 20th century. Years passed, and in the 2011 Census, Italian speakers were slowly decreasing, to sit 3rd on the list.

The number of Chinese immigrants has increased, and the Mandarin language came in at number 2 on the list.. Up until 2016, Mandarin has topped the list of the most spoken languages aside from English. In just a decade, the number of Mandarin speakers in Australia grew by more than 170%.

For a more detailed view of the top 10 languages spoken in Australia. We’ll take a look at the top languages spoken in the different states of Australia.

English Language Proficiency in Australia

1 Mandarin Mandarin Mandarin Mandarin Italian Mandarin Australian Indigenous Languages Mandarin
2 Arabic Italian Italian Tagalog/ Filipino Mandarin Nepali Tagalog/ Filipino Vietnamese
3 Cantonese Greek Tagalog/ Filipino Vietnamese Greek German Greek Cantonese
4 Vietnamese Vietnamese Vietnamese Cantonese Vietnamese Greek Mandarin Hindi
5 Greek Arabic Cantonese Spanish Persian/ Dari Italian Malayalam Spanish
6 Italian Cantonese Afrikaans Italian Cantonese Cantonese Nepali Italian
7 Tagalog/ Filipino Punjabi Arabic Korean Tagalog/ Filipino Tagalog/ Filipino Vietnamese Arabic
8 Hindi Hindi Punjabi Hindi Punjabi Spanish Indonesian Tagalog/ Filipino
9 Spanish Tagalog/ Filipino Persian/ Dari Punjabi Arabic Dutch Thai Greek
10 Korean Persian/ Dari Indonesian Japanese Hindi Persian/ Dari Hindi Korean


From the table above, you can see a lot of languages that are common for each Australian State. The Northern Territory is the only Australian state that has the Australian Indigenous Languages as its most spoken language. In addition to that, it has the lowest number of Australians who speak English at home at 58 per cent.

Australian English

The variant of English spoken in Australia is often called Australian English.

But why? What makes it different from the other variations of the English languages?

The Australian English language is more related to British English because of the First Settlers who arrived in 1788. Most of the settlers then were from different mutually intelligible dialectal British Isles regions. After setting up the Colony of New South Wales, the first generation of the early settlers who were born in Australia intermingled with one another. As a result, the English language evolved into an entirely different English variety.

Australian English has a unique accent, grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, register and spelling. And since Australians often use slang words to express themselves, a lot of English speaking foreigners can’t understand many sentences spoken in Australia.

The immigration trend has slowly changed how the English language is used in Australia. With so many Australians having been born overseas, or with at least one parent born overseas, the number of languages spoken in Australia has significantly increased. However, before many immigrants can receive permanent residency in Australia they have to pass an English test. This shows that many immigrants to Australia speak English. Despite this, their native language will still accompany them during their early stages of life.

In most cases, immigrants use their native languages at home. According to the 2016 census, around 27% of Australians don’t speak English at home. And this number is continuously increasing.

Language Diversity

All in all, we can see from the data above that Australia is very diverse when it comes to its languages. Despite the Australian English as the de facto national language of the country, the immigration patterns and history of the country has lead to several languages spoken in Australian homes aside from the English language.

Australia can greatly use this language diversity to help in fostering international ties and triggering cultural exchanges. In trade agreements, bilingual skills are often needed for facilitation.

Talk to our Translation Strategy team today, who are experts when it comes to the languages spoken by Australians, to determine which languages you should be using to communicate with your audience.