Our travel blog to Australia for informed travel.
Languages spoken in Australia
The English language is universally spoken and understood in Australia. Nevertheless, as Australia is a global melting pot, particularly in the major cities, you will encounter cultures and hear languages from all around the world, and you will often find areas and suburbs that predominately reflect the language of their respective immigrant communities. Foreign languages are taught at school, but students rarely progress past the basics.
It is fairly rare to find signs in a second language, except in urban areas with a high population of Asian immigrants and students, where signs and restaurant menus in Vietnamese and Chinese are a common sight; and also around Cairns and the Gold Coast in Queensland where some signs (but not road signs) are written in Japanese, due to the large number of Japanese tourists. Some warning signs at beaches are written in several foreign languages.
Australian slang should not present a problem for tourists except possibly in some isolated outback areas. A few words and euphemisms that are considered offensive elsewhere are common vernacular in Australian speech; therefore, it is worth getting familiar with them in the Australian slang guide. Australians are familiar enough with the differences to know what you mean, although they may still have a laugh at your expense.
Visitors who do not speak basic English will find communicating with Australians difficult, and should do some advance planning. Some tour companies specialise in offering package deals for Australian tours complete with guides who speak particular languages.
Over a hundred Aboriginal languages are still known and spoken by Aboriginal people, particularly those living in rural outback communities, as well as those in the Torres Strait Islands. These languages are all different, so you won't see an "Aboriginal" phrasebook in the travel bookshops. Many Aboriginal place names derive from Aboriginal languages that have been lost, and their meanings remain uncertain. Almost all Aboriginal people speak English as well, although residents of some remote communities may not be fluent in the language.
The standard sign language is Auslan (standing for Australian Sign Language). When a sign interpreter is present for a public event, he or she will use Auslan. Users of British and New Zealand Sign Languages will be able to understand much, though not all, of the language. Auslan and NZSL are largely derived from BSL, and all three languages use the same two-handed manual alphabet. Users of sign languages that have different origins (such as the French Sign Language family, which also includes American and Irish Sign Languages) will not be able to understand Auslan.
(Thanks to WikiVoyage.org)