When it comes to language in Australia, English is the official tongue and spoken throughout the country. If you don’t know how to speak English, you’ll be relying on hand-signals and mime to get you through your Australian trip! Over 75% of people speak English as their first language, and a good deal more are bilingual. Most bilingual speakers are the descendants of immigrants to the country.
Australia is a massively diverse country, therefore English isn’t the only language you’ll hear on an Australian gap year though. Italian is popularly spoken in many cities, as is Greek, Mandarin, Arabic and Vietnamese. These languages are mostly spoken in the home though, although specific enclaves of large cities – such as Sydney Chinatown – might have a predominant language other than English. As already stated though, most descendants of immigrants are bilingual.
Basically speaking, however, English is the only language you will need.
It isn’t possible to talk about language in Australia though without mentioning the native Aboriginal languages found there. In fact, when the Europeans arrived in Australia, the Aborigines had over 400 different languages. Unfortunately though, most of these languages have now been lost, with just 70 remaining. What’s more, only a small number of people are reported to speak one of these languages – just 50,000 speak them as a first language, about five times less than people stating Chinese is their first language. In fact, more people speak Macedonian than an Aboriginal language nowadays in Australia.
The Torres Strait Islands, which are part of Australia and found to the north, do have their own dialects – although there are only just under 7,000 people living there. These languages are called Meriam Mir (found in the east), Kalau Lagau Ya, Kulkalgau Ya, Kalau Kawau Ya and Kaiwaligau Ya (all found in the west). There is also a pidgin language called Brokan. If you are lucky enough to visit these islands – there aren’t many who do visit them on an Australian gap year – try to pick up some of the lingo while you’re there!