Australian audience demographics

Australia has a diverse population, with many cultures, languages and levels of literacy.

This section covers:

English competency

Although Australia is officially an English-speaking country, English is not the home language in more than 20% of Australian families. 

Most immigrants shift to using English as their first language (known as L1) over time. However, it happens more slowly for some cultures and languages. Some immigrant families may speak English as their second language (L2) for 2 or 3 generations. The 2016 Census found significant rates of low English proficiency in 5 of the major language groups in Australia. (These figures are based on self-reporting, so they may be an underestimate.) The percentage of people reporting low English proficiency in these groups was:

  • Korean – 32%

  • Vietnamese – 31%

  • Mandarin – 26%

  • Cantonese – 25%

  • Arabic – 16%. 

Special strategies are needed to communicate and engage with groups that have lower average levels of English competency. This could involve translating public documents into other languages, or ensuring that English information is presented at readability levels suitable for L2 readers. See Multicultural audiences for guidance on how to ensure accurate translations.

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Literacy of the general public

The average level of literacy in Australia, as reported in United Nations surveys of adult competencies, is lower than you might expect. 

On a scale of 0 to 5 (set by the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies), almost half the population surveyed (45%) registered below level 3, the minimum comprehension level needed for adult everyday reading:

  • level 0 (readers can understand only basic vocabulary) – 5% of those surveyed 

  • level 1 (readers can decode the meanings of words and sentences) – 10% 

  • level 2 (readers can make low-level inferences from matching texts) – 30% 

  • level 3 (readers can interpret and evaluate significant information from several texts) – 38% 

  • level 4 (readers can synthesise layered and conditional information from complex or mixed text types, and evaluate their bases of argument) – 15%

  • level 5 (readers can synthesise similar and contrasting arguments, evaluate the reliability of evidence, interpret rhetorical cues and make high-level inferences) – 2%.

It is important to refer to these levels when you are deciding what level of readability to aim for in your writing. 

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Numeracy and graph literacy

Numeracy and graph literacy are different from reading literacy.

Some people may have high reading literacy but may not easily understand numerical information. Other people may understand quantitative information more easily than written words, especially if it is presented in graphic forms. For example, some immigrant Australians who use English as a second language may be able to understand quantitative information better when it is presented as graphs or charts than when it is presented in paragraphs of English words.

Think about how to include and portray numerical information to suit both your content and your audience. You can find more information on how to include graphical content, including graphs, charts and infographics, in Showing.

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