It is not enough to know how to speak English if you want to live and work in Australia. If you are emigrating on any of the General Skilled Migration visas, you’ll need to prove your English language proficiency by sitting a test. This section has more on English in Australia, including learning English as a second language and services for people who don’t speak it.
How important is it to speak English in Australia?
It is essential to speak English if you want to work in Australia. In fact, your English proficiency will be tested as part of your visa application process if you are applying for any of the general skilled migration visa categories. You will be asked to sit an examination called the International English Language Testing System (or IELTS) and must obtain either ‘competent’ or ‘vocational’ proficiency to qualify.
People who speak English will find it easier to get work - the reason the Australian Government asks people moving to Australia for work to sit IELTS. Knowing how to speak English will also help you fit in with the locals when you arrive. This is especially important if you don’t already have support networks, like family and friends, in the area where you are living – or if your family is not moving to Australia with you.
The IELTS test includes writing, listening, speaking and reading sections and there are seven levels of proficiency, with ‘competent’ and ‘vocational’ the hardest to achieve.
The good news is, if you are a citizen of the UK, Republic of Ireland, USA, Canada or New Zealand – and hold a valid passport – you are deemed to have passed the English language threshold.
More information on how to sit IELTS to work in Australia is available from the Department of Immigration.
Learning English in Australia
It is possible to learn English in Australia. While you’ll need to speak English before you arrive, perhaps your family members won’t, so it might be a good idea to look into enrolling them in a language school. There are many specialist, privately-operated, accredited English language schools in Australia. Many colleges and universities also run courses. These are often called ESL, or English as a Second Language. It is definitely best to make sure you’re going through an accredited institution. You can check out the English Australia website for more information and a list of good ESL schools.
English at home
While speaking English is essential to work in Australia, there are services in the community, and in Government departments, to help people with little or no English. Most Government agencies and departments – including Centrelink, which is the agency through which unemployment services and welfare benefits are accessed – have translators or members of staff who speak a variety of languages. So you can request to be put through to someone who speaks Spanish, Russian, Bahasa Indonesian or Urdu, for instance.
Australia has a rich multicultural society and there are communities from every corner of the world in most major cities – although this is less likely in outlying rural areas. Many places have radio stations that regularly broadcast in foreign languages. There is also a national television station called SBS that broadcasts programmes from all over the world.
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