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A comprehensive guide to CALD Australia

Table of Contents


CALD Introduction

The term CALD, coined in 1999, stands for “Culturally And Linguistically Diverse”.

Australia has long been a culturally diverse country, with a tradition of immigration that has been a cornerstone of its national policy for decades. The latest census data references over 400 languages spoken across the country including those spoken by indigenous Australians.

Since the end of WWII, the number of overseas-born and second-generation migrants in Australia has been gradually increasing. In 2021, over 7 million people in Australia, representing 27.6% of the population, were born overseas. The same census in 2021 found that 5.8 million people, 22.8% of Australia’s population, use a language other than English at home.

Australia has been mindful of its diverse population and has been hard at work making all communities across Australia feel welcome. As a result, the term CALD was introduced to represent the cultural and linguistic diversity across Australia. 

Take a deep dive with us as we explore what the term CALD means, what it represents and the landscape that it lends itself to.

What does the term CALD mean?

CALD is a bureaucratic acronym commonly used in public and community sectors but it isn’t a label that people identify with. The term refers to individuals raised in families where a language other than English was spoken, and whose cultural values and upbringing differed from those of English-speaking society.

CALD specifically refers to people who are not Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and whose ancestry is from places other than England, Scotland, Ireland or Wales.

At its core, CALD is meant to be an inclusive term that encapsulates the essence of coexistence and unity, regardless of differences, and acknowledges the cultural and linguistic diversity that makes up Australian society.

Origins and evolution of CALD and terms alike

CALD was introduced in 1999 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics to replace “Non-English-Speaking-Background” (NESB) as it was thought to be a broader, more flexible and inclusive term.

The term NESB lumped all people from non-English speaking backgrounds into one group. It’s now considered an inappropriate term for several reasons including, conflicting definitions, grouping both advantaged and disadvantaged individuals, inability to identify separate cultural and linguistic groups, and negative connotations attached to the acronym.

Recognising the shortcomings of the NESB label, government departments aimed to replace the term with a more accurate indicator for assessing cultural and language diversity in service provision. The Cultural and Language Indicators Pilot Study (CLIP) was initiated to develop a standardised set of variables to replace NESB. The study involved designing and testing a data collection instrument and analysing census and survey data to assess the performance and suitability of the proposed indicator variables.

After a lengthy study that spanned years, a set of variables were determined that define cultural and linguistic diversity, including the country of birth, main language other than English spoken at home, proficiency in spoken English and ancestry. Following the study, NESB was replaced with the CALD term which was found to be a more accurate representation of Australia’s changing demographic landscape.

From the early waves of migration to the present, the term has adapted to encompass the evolving array of cultures and linguistic backgrounds. It stands as a testament to the nation’s commitment to fostering a harmonious multicultural society.

What is considered a CALD background?

At the heart of CALD is cultural and linguistic diversity, which encompasses a wide array of features within ethnic backgrounds. Elements such as cultural traditions, religious views, ethnicity, language, country of origin, sexual orientation, class, gender, age, disability, health disparities, and other variables contribute to this diversity. 

The CALD background, characterised by cultural and linguistic variations, includes:

  • Migrants

    Individuals who voluntarily leave their home country for a better life. They made the decision to leave and have had a chance to plan with information about migration and can return to their home country whenever they want. Migrants have the option to apply for Australian citizenship.

  • Asylum Seeker

    Someone seeking recognition and protection as a refugee (In Australia, this is referred to as a Protection visa applicant) but is still waiting for a final decision on their application. Asylum seekers may arrive on various visas, including a visitor or student visa, while some may enter without a valid visa. Those meeting health, character, and security conditions and deemed to be due to Australia’s protection under the Refugees Convention may receive a permanent Protection visa. Not all asylum applicants will be recognised as refugees in the end.

  • Refugee

    An individual compelled to abandon family, home, employment, support, and country to survive. Unlike migrants, refugees lack time to plan and may never return to their hometowns.

  • Unaccompanied Humanitarian Minors

    Individuals under eighteen, without parental care, are granted a humanitarian visa by Australia. They may or may not have relatives over the age of 21 who can take care of them while in Australia.

Embracing diverse CALD cultural norms, including values, beliefs, languages, and customs, is crucial in understanding the experiences of those from a CALD background. A CALD background extends beyond the country of birth or ethnic origin. It includes individuals with diverse linguistic backgrounds, native languages other than English, and those who may have faced language barriers in their journey to becoming permanent residents or Australian citizens.

What are CALD communities?

CALD communities constitute a significant segment of the Australian population, with nearly half of all Australians having either been born outside of Australia or having parents born abroad. Survey data reveals that CALD populations in Australia originate from 190 different nations and encompass 300 distinct ancestries, fostering a multicultural society.

A CALD family specifically refers to individuals from a non-English speaking country, but can also encompass religion and heritage, beyond language. Research indicates that Australia boasts nearly 300 spoken languages, 100 practised religions, and diverse heritage combinations influencing new languages.

Most foreign-born residents prefer city living, especially in Sydney, where the majority reside. Approximately 300 distinct linguistic characteristics are spoken in Australian households. At home, over a fifth of Australians converse in their native language other than English, with Mandarin, Arabic, Cantonese, and Vietnamese being the top spoken languages among CALD populations. Tasmania has the highest percentage of individuals exclusively speaking English at home (86.1%), while the Northern Territory has the lowest rate (57.3%).

Given the cultural diversities within CALD communities, service providers may face challenges stemming from:

  • Cultural differences

  • Lack of adequate information

  • Varied social, linguistic, and educational backgrounds

  • Insufficient knowledge about rights and responsibilities

  • Distrust in government agencies and services

  • Fear of stigmatisation

  • Be attentive and respectful

  • Address individuals by their title and surname, pronouncing it correctly

  • Limit the number of concepts introduced at one time

  • Organise information to emphasise key messages

  • Clarify if anything is missed

  • Avoid jargon, slang, and acronyms

  • Communicate clearly, using stories as examples

  • Provide written documentation for important information

CALD communities are more than just groups with a shared cultural background or language. They represent microcosms of rich heritage, traditions, and values that contribute to the broader Australian identity. These communities play a pivotal role in shaping the cultural sphere in Australia and enriching the country with their unique experiences and perspectives.

Best practices for communicating with CALD audiences

The key to communicating with CALD communities is understanding that they might have low English proficiency so the language and words used must be simple and universal. 

Here are some tips to overcome the communication barrier that might exist:

  • Use Plain English

    Plain language is a communication style where terminology, structure, and design are so clear that the listener can easily pick up on the key points. Put yourself in the reader’s shoes, consider their perspective on what you’re trying to convey and use words that they can understand.

  • Try Easy English

    Easy English is much more basic, using visuals to help with comprehension. Easy English was created to cater to those with learning difficulties and can help those with low English proficiency to better understand what you’re saying. Think about who will be reading your message, why they are reading it, what they need to know and what actions you want them to take once they’ve received the message.

  • Speak slowly

    Adjust your speaking pace, enunciate the words clearly, and break sentences into manageable chunks. This helps reduce language barriers and allows the audience time to process information.

  • Make Active Listening a habit

    Active listening is crucial for cross-cultural communication. Ask questions, restate, or summarise what the other person has said to ensure accurate understanding. This tactic can help foster connection and avoid misunderstandings.

  • Take turns speaking

    Facilitate a smooth flow of conversation by taking turns when speaking. It’s best to speak to people in brief exchanges and avoid lengthy monologues that can be difficult to follow, especially for those whose second language is English.

  • Translate the content

    Translating your content is a great way to communicate with CALD communities that do not speak English at home. At LEXIGO, alongside doing community translations for diverse communities, we also have a Native Community Partnerships Panel that we work with to ensure that our translated content resonates with the community as well, ensuring that not only is the content translated correctly but is appropriate for the targeted communities.

  • Use images to communicate

    Images can help your audience better understand the message you’re trying to get across. Just be sure to use photos that are culturally suitable for the CALD communities that you’re targeting.

  • Be encouraging

    Foster a comfortable atmosphere for effective communication. Treat non-native English speakers with respect throughout the conversation and encourage them when they answer. This can help build trust in you.

  • Avoid closed questions

    Foster a comfortable atmosphere for effective communication. Treat non-native English speakers with respect throughout the conversation and encourage them when they answer. This can help build trust in you.

Final thoughts

In recent years, Australia has witnessed the emergence of innovative solutions to address the unique needs of CALD communities. By recognising cultural values, promoting human rights, and tailoring service provision to diverse backgrounds, the nation aims to create an inclusive and equitable society.

CALD, a term that once found its roots in the need for clear communication, now encapsulates the essence of Australia’s multicultural identity. The challenges and opportunities associated with diverse CALD backgrounds demand a nuanced and inclusive approach. 

As we navigate the intricacies of cultural and linguistic diversity, the term CALD serves as a reminder of the need for understanding, empathy, and innovation in building a united and harmonious nation.

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