Arabic Now Sydney’s No. 2 Language

Connie Levett, Sydney Morning Herald, June 28, 2007

THE face of immigration is changing. English and New Zealanders still make up the largest groups of overseas-born residents—but the new focus, especially in Sydney, is among people with Arabic-speaking and Chinese backgrounds.

In Sydney, the most common language spoken at home, after English, is now Arabic (3.9 per cent) followed by Cantonese (3 per cent) and Mandarin (2.3 per cent). Only then do Greek (1.9 per cent) and Italian (1.7 per cent) feature.

The president of the Australian Chinese Community Association, Lucilla Leung, said despite the economic revolution in China, “it can never feed all the Chinese people” and “no matter how open it has become, it is still a command economy”.

Ms Leung, who came to Australia more than 40 years ago, said the networks of Chinese Australians already living here attracted new migrants. “Like the Italians and the Greeks, the Chinese have networks, so when they land they can ask [other Chinese] where they can get help,” she said.

The association was set up in 1974 after a group of Chinese migrants saw the 1972 census results, realised how many of them were already here and grouped together to help one another.

Sydney’s ethnic mix is at odds with the rest of the country and reflects the preference of migrants to settle in Australia’s biggest city. It has significantly more overseas-born citizens and reflects the changing points of origin of Australian immigration. Almost one in three Sydneysiders (32 per cent) was born overseas, compared with the national average of 22 per cent, according to the 2006 census figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics yesterday.

The largest group of Australians born overseas is still English (19 per cent) followed by New Zealanders (8 per cent) but, in Sydney, they represent 11 per cent and 6 per cent respectively.

For the first time, Chinese (8.3 per cent) have overtaken the New Zealanders in Sydney to become the second largest overseas born group.

Nationally, the most commonly spoken languages after English are Italian, Greek and Cantonese but, of these, the Chinese dialect was the only one to increase its number of speakers, up 21 per cent, since 1996.

The census shows a continuing decline in the use of European languages at home. Greek and Italian usage fell but German suffered the biggest drop, 24 per cent.

In contrast, the numbers of Mandarin and Hindi speakers have doubled since 1996.

In Sydney, 29 per cent of households (1.2 million people) use a language other than English at home. In Hobart, only 5.1 per cent (10,000 people) speak another language at home.

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