Using Australian census data, the paper examines the incidence of poor English competency in Australia from 1981 onwards. The paper examines English competency in relation to various characteristics such as sex, age, language spoken, visa type, citizenship, duration of residence and location. It finds that there was a sharp rise in the numbers of people not speaking English well between the 2011 and 2016 Censuses and special attention is given to this rise in the paper. Recently, the Australian Government unsuccessfully legislated for the introduction of a requirement of English competency at the level of IELTS 6 (the commonly used university entrance level) as a condition for the award of Australian citizenship. The paper argues that this test would have led to a very large number of disenfranchised Australian permanent residents and this would be a highly undesirable result. Nevertheless, employment and social participation are strongly influenced by English competency and residents with poor English are disadvantaged. The policy suggestion is made that participation in a course of English language training for those without functional English skills could be made a precondition of the award of permanent residence—without the application of a passing grade.
SOURCE: McDonald, P. Moyle, H. and Temple, J. “English proficiency in Australia, 1981 to 2016” AJSI, 26 June 2019.
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