English proficiency amongst migrant populations has a relatively high profile in the UK education system at present. This article compared data from two Australian national censuses with the aim of describing the English proficiency of the Australian population, to explain the relationship between spoken English and multilingual speakers’ participation in Australian society and explore the differences in these areas between age and gender. The authors used an online tool subscribed to by their university to allow users to construct data tables on Australian census variables that were of interest from the 2006 and 2011 national census. They then compared the number and percentage of people for each of the English proficiency categories to higher education qualifications, employment and income and compared these across age and gender. Results highlight that the proportion of self-reported spoken English proficiency of Australians who speak another language at home did not significantly change in this time, but the diversity of languages did. The authors suggest that this diversity is of benefit to their nation’s ability to participate in the global economy. They also highlight that multilingual speakers who reported proficiency in English were more likely to have achieved higher educational qualification, have full time employment and to earn more money than monolingual English speakers. In comparison multilingual speakers who reported poor or no spoken English were less likely to be employed, perhaps because of the decline of the low-skilled labour industry in Australia. This group were more likely to be over the age of 35 and female. The authors flag that the census does not collate data on the cause of the poor English skills such as difficulty learning English, childhood speech and language impairment, autism, stroke etc. They emphasise that there needs to be further investigation and service coordination to support individuals in this bracket. This study can inform professionals working with multilingual speakers to plan services appropriately and to recognise the value of multilingualism and diversity for the national and global economy. 

The relationship between spoken English proficiency and participation in higher education, employment and income from two Australian censuses.
Blake HL, McLeod S, Verdon S, Fuller G.
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Anna Volkmer

UCL, London, UK.

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