When we think of communication problems in the education sector...

Ismail Akinci
Ismail Akinci | 23 Oct 2019

When we think of communication problems in the education sector, we often think of teachers and educators having trouble connecting with their students. What we don’t always think about, is the challenges they face when trying to connect with parents.


Understanding the audience

Four years ago, senior staff at Brighton Grammar School received some surprising internal feedback from recently conducted parent-teacher interviews. Maggie Lynch OAM, the school’s International Parents’ Support Group Coordinator, noted a communication gap with families from non-English speaking backgrounds. As a leading independent school with high levels of academic success with a pro-active international marketing effort, Brighton Grammar School is a popular choice among new Australian families seeking excellent educational outcomes for their children, as well as an immersion in Australian culture. However, some of these new community members were not able to fully engage with the school’s practices and highly valuable parent-teacher interactions as non-English speakers.

A lack of awareness of the benefits of using interpreters meant that non-English speaking families were missing out on valuable feedback from parent-teacher and parent-school interactions. The school reached out to All Graduates to find a possible solution to the communication problem.

Enabling communication

All Graduates quickly began working with the school to introduce a pilot program, testing the viability of interpreters for parent-teacher interviews. Brighton Grammar School Director of Advancement, John Phillips said the pilot quickly delivered significant positive outcomes for the school and parents. With John and Maggie’s valuable insights, we were able to spearhead the introduction of regular language services

“All Graduates has provided interpreter services for our parent-teacher interviews over the past four years. The feedback from our international parents regarding this service has been incredibly positive and affirms our decision to keep offering language services in the future.”

John Phillips
Director of Advancement at Brighton Grammar School


Meliora Sequamur

In keeping with the school’s motto, Meliora Seuamur (Let us keep pursuing better things), earlier this year we furthered our relationship with the school to expand multilingual communications to students and families. Recognising not every situation requires an interpreter, All Graduates began working with International Student Liaisons on an awareness and engagement program using LiME, our new multilingual audio messaging system.

“When discussing LiME with All Graduates, I was very interested in how we could apply this to enhance student wellbeing. We are now developing a series of messages to engage with both students and parents around the school’s counselling services.”


Maggie Lynch OAM,
International Parents’ Support Group Coordinator at Brighton Grammar School


How we used LiME

This is something we’re very excited about. Our latest offering, LiME, is a tailored cloud-based audio solutions package. With it, we can create and manage audio content for a huge range of platforms in more than 100 languages, with specific accents and dialects, spoken by native speakers. Brighton Grammar School is keen utilise LiME across WeChat, SMS, email, and various mobile apps as selected by the school. This process means staff won’t need to develop new documents but could instead repurpose existing communications by creating custom audio content.



Whether the issue is as minor as an accent or as major as a wholly foreign dialect...

Ellias Appel
Ellias Appel | 8 Aug 2019

Ten year ago we were servicing about 70 languages. That number has swollen to around 150! Whether the issue is as minor as an accent or as major as a wholly foreign dialect, we know that more of you are bumping up against language barriers in your workplace.

So here are our Top Ten Tips to help you break through barriers and emerge, like the phoenix, reborn! (or maybe you’ll just learn how to communicate better with a diverse range of people)


1. Use Plain Language

This seems stupid simple, but guarantee you are as guilty of it as I am. Whether you’re interacting with someone who speaks English as their secondary (or tertiary) language, or trying to convey one of those problems that drip with jargony terms to your non-technical workmates, we should all get in the habit of using plain English language whenever possible. Yes, using large, mul-ti-syll-a-bic words makes you sound smart, but you’re going to feel pretty silly if you need to repeat those words 3 times, and then explain their meaning. Keep your conversations like unbuttered toast: plain and simple.


2. Consider Easy English

There is a growing trend amongst groups engaging with diverse cultural groups, and those with low literacy, to produce versions of documents in Easy English. This is a style of writing which uses everyday words, simple sentences and images to support the messages. It is different to plain language and incorporates the layout of information on a page (large font, lots of white space). We are seeing more clients who are pursuing this style of writing as a supplement to their more traditional T&Cs and legalese laden documents.


3. Speak slowly and clearly

Like my Nana used to say to me “You’re speaking too fast!”, and you probably are too. Slow it down and annunciate. You may be communicating with someone who speaks English fluently, but that doesn’t mean they can clearly understand your excitedly blurted words. 

Take a page from Audrey Hepburn, and speak your words clearly.




4. Professional Development (PD)

If your industry sector is highly technical, filled with jargon, acronyms and abbreviations, you may consider PD something inward facing. Often, capacity building and staff skilling-up are focussed on your internal processes, and not your customer interactions. Creating a culturally responsive workplace means educating not just your customer facing staff members, but also those who interact with culturally diverse workers. Lessons should include awareness of culturally sensitive issues (such as gender relations), as well as language and literacy deficits which may contribute to confusion when discussing certain topics (such as Family Violence, or financial literacy).


5. Use graphics effectively

Like the saying goes, ‘A picture paints a thousand words’. It may seem counter-intuitive for a language services company to advocate for images rather than text, but if you are going to effectively communicate some concepts, you can’t beat imagery. It is especially important when you are translating documents that they are correctly reformatted so that graphics are correctly aligned with your text.


6. Repetition

Scientifically, people need to learn something more than once to build a solid recall. For this reason it’s important that repetition of key concepts is a core element of your communication framework. While the jury may be out as to whether it’s best to repeat verbatim, or to alter messages slightly in each repetition, from a customer engagement perspective each has their place. Your core messages should be repeated verbatim (for example “If pain persists, please see a doctor”), but your core concepts may be altered to avoid boredom and disengagement by your audience (for example we use two different phrases in our content “Language and literacy are no longer barriers” and “Language and literacy are no longer a barrier to communication”).


7. Repetition

See Step 6 above.


8. Be patient and respectful


The person you are communicating with is having the same difficulties as you, just from the other side. Try not to get frustrated. If the tables were turned, you’d want to be shown patience and compassion. So, do unto others.

Speak carefully and naturally, clearer not louder.




9. Engage a translator

It may be shocking to learn that even amongst highly educated industries such as healthcare and law, there still exists a portion of practitioners that resort to bilingual staff or family members, rather than suitably trained, independent professionals.

Every document that you deem important to your customers should be translated by a qualified team. In some cases it is even appropriate to perform Independent Checking to safeguard against errors in the translation.


10. Enlist interpreters

Even reasonably proficient ESL speakers may experience anxiety when speaking English. Do not hesitate to engage with interpreters when it is appropriate for the customer’s experience, and to ensure a positive outcome for your interaction.


11. Upgrade your content


Video didn’t kill the radio star! Audio still has pride of place as a useful tool to enhance the effectiveness of your documents and improve understanding for low-literacy cohorts. In fact research points out that multilingual audio actually encourages better outcomes for ESL customers.

We developed our LiME Multilingual Messaging to specifically fill this gap in language services by repurposing existing written documents, and creating pre-recorded audio for customer engagements.


Hopefully you’ve picked up a trick or two, and can navigate your next cross-language engagement with confidence and capability.



Language is the link between behaviour and outcome

Ellias Appel
Ellias Appel | 25 Jun 2019

Strategic Justification

A few months ago, the Daniel Andrew led Victorian Labor Government committed to find “$1.8 billion in savings, which amounts to 4 per cent of its [public service] resources [spending]“. This is an interesting amount, because 4% seems like such a pithy number… and then you realise that we’re talking in the billions and you need to adjust the scale of your perspective.

One of the fascinating elements in finding these savings is that there is often a metric of change which blows that 4% out of the water. For example, we recently tendered for a project aimed at changing patient behaviour for after-hours medical treatments. In a study performed by Deloitte in 2016, they identified that:

“The lowest cost pathways for patients seeking after hours primary care are extended and ‘after hours only’ clinics ($93) … Emergency departments [are] the most expensive [pathway] at $1,351 if arriving by ambulance (or treated and not transported) and $368 if self-presenting.”

To put this in perspective, the inappropriate use of Emergency Departments (i.e. non-critical presentations) significantly impacts the capacity of the healthcare system, as well as incurring costs of 4-14 times their primary health care equivalent. These behaviours are often a consequence of a complex series of factors, but in the case of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse patient groups, there is often an underlying health literacy deficit, specifically regarding awareness of health services.

Census data suggest a strong likelihood of underlying poor literacy and poor English language abilities in the CALD community, and this may additionally be stymieing the effectiveness of traditional campaigns and resources to effect change in the consumer decision making process for these groups. Consequently, creating engaging content and positively impacting on the customer experience is not as simple as translating written materials.

As shown in a research study we recently posted, audio can be the ‘missing link’ in effective engagement for groups with poor English language ability. Additionally, because of varying cultural trends in navigating power-dynamics, it is also important to ensure that your content is assessed for cultural appropriateness and translated by an appropriately qualified professional.

We encourage organisations that are seeking to engage with CALD groups, whether on a large scale (geographically or in population terms) or in highly targeted niche interactions, to explore data rich engagement options, such as online audio delivery, trackable links, IP geolocation and other related options.

Customer engagement is crucial to improving health literacy outcomes, but the same is true for other preferred behavioural outcomes you are trying to instil in your audience. Language informs effective communication within both marketing and resource development, and this is ultimately the linkage between your messages, and the customer outcomes you are pursuing.


All Graduates
All Graduates | 8 Apr 2019

Australia’s population is booming, with migrants of all types coming to our shores from all corners of the globe. Whilst this makes for a vibrant and diverse society (not to mention an expansive list of takeaway food options), it has also introduced complexities in the operations of public and private sectors. A growing CALD population (possibly struggling with low literacy in their native language), regulatory, ethical and cultural obligations – all of these have made the simple, much less so.

One of the areas in which we are regularly called to engage with our clients is that of operational efficiency. We produce a copious number of reports and analyses for government departments and companies, describing the interface between organisations and non-English speaking clients. We are often the catalyst for the introduction of technologies to enhance this interface, and also to improve the underlying systems with which an organisation may facilitate that interface.

The LiME Multilingual Messaging system evolved from the need to decrease communication barriers, and improve operational efficiencies for businesses and organisations. It has been designed as a sophisticated but easy-to-use tool to facilitate engagement with non-English speaking customers and those with literacy challenges.


“From the moment a non-English speaking client walks into your office, the challenge you face is the balance between meeting their needs with the inherent cost and complexity of doing so.”


A few years back we were introduced to a multilingual telephone message line (IVR) thanks to a looming Australian Electoral Commission tender. This inelegant proposal planted the seed which we grew into a platform-agnostic messaging system. While the phrasing may be unfamiliar, in practice this is what you do every day – you send your messages on whichever communication platform is available, appropriate or convenient. Whether you are using the web, social media, chat apps or calling an information line, the platform is irrelevant. The ​message ​is the crucial component.

Through a continuous and innovative development process, and ongoing input from our clients (and a Melbourne appropriate volume of coffee consumption), LiME was developed to offer holistic solutions to organisations engaging with CALD groups without sacrificing operational efficiencies.


LiME multilingual messaging system
– it ain’t just a member of the citrus family

Extensive research has shown that language barriers cause anxiety and create obstacles for non-English speakers to both engage with society at large, and access services in general. We very often see that our increasingly information-driven economy results in increased workloads and reduced efficiencies when interpreters are utilised in one-way communications. Additionally language translation services, while fundamental to ensuring the proliferation of an equitable society, are not only impacted by low literacy rates among non-English speakers, but also among the general Australian population. In spite of this knowledge, it never occurred to us until we started engaging with our clients just how transformational our LiME system had the potential to be.


Technology offers many benefits to language services

We understand the importance of message parity. Whilst AI technologies such as Google translate and Siri are handy day-to-day tools, they are not adequate for use in business and government communications. We recently had this exact issue raised with us by one of our private school clients, as well as the Project Manager of a pilot DHS program. LiME addresses this issue by drastically reducing the risk of miscommunication while improving access to information. We are currently working with multiple organisations that are using this system to reduce the burden on language service teams when communicating repetitive messages, while simultaneously improving access to appropriate language communications for their increasingly diverse clients.

We consider LiME as an adjunct to interpreter services, offering improved efficiencies in one-way message delivery, prior to hand-off to an interpreter if it becomes necessary. We know anecdotally and through our own internal reviews that there are often issues in communication parity when involving interpreters for “real-time translation” of complicated language documents (medical, legal or statutory). Our clients consistently point towards LiME offering immense potential in resolving these issues.


“LiME utilises multi-platform technology to create meaninful, comprehensive communications where and when you need them. Discover how it can work for you.”


And Here's 3 Solutions to Address this.

All Graduates
All Graduates | 15 Apr 2019

Australia is a nation made up predominantly of immigrants, with the 2016 census revealing that 1 in 4 of us are born overseas. When communicating with clients and customers from diverse backgrounds, it’s crucial to be respectful and culturally sensitive. However, there’s an issue facing adults in Australia, which is especially problematic for those for who face language barriers: that issue is literacy.

14% of Australian adults are illiterate¹. The OECD estimates that the average rate of illiteracy worldwide is 18.9%, and is as high as 30% in some countries. Therefore, immigrants may have a higher rate of illiteracy then the Australian average, and face even greater challenges when engaging with your organisation’s communications. Furthermore, research indicates that many migrants (even as high as 65%) struggle with English language comprehension, and this doesn’t even consider their native language difficulties.

¹OECD Literacy Level 1 or below


“Audio is a great equaliser in terms of communicating messages where literacy is an issue.”


Australia has a successful history of making effective cultural communications, and the demand for such communications is evident. SBS Radio, for example, broadcasts in 74 languages other than English, and has 1.3 million users streaming each month. With evidence confirming that limited English proficiency directly affects client outcomes, it is crucially important that organisations consider effective multilingual messaging as well as making their English content accessible for users at the lower end of the literacy spectrum.

When seeking to ensure that your messages are being received ​and ​understood, you should consider audio a proven and effective tool. Here are three tools to integrate multilingual audio into your practices.


1 – Google Translate: AI and Machine Learning


“Hey Google, how do you say ‘pass the wasabi’ in Japanese?”


Google has lead the charge in developing an AI driven translation engine. This has seen evolutionary changes, shifting from “​Phrase-Based Machine Translation (PBMT) to Google Neural Machine Translation (GNMT)” in 2016. No, we don’t know what that means either. But, the outcome is that through machine learning, their algorithm can figure out ways to translate between languages. It’s not perfect, but ​the strength of these translation methods lies in their speed and accessibility.​ ​At a consumer level, instant translation has made travel phrase books a thing of the past.

Computer-generated translations, adequate for simple phrasing, can produce inaccurate and misleading translations. Whilst this can have hilarious consequences, it is clearly not appropriate in a professional environment where your communications are intimately tied in to the perception of you and your organisation.

When engaging with your low-literacy clients, use AI with a degree of caution.


2 – Interpreters for Businesses


The impact of qualified interpreters enabling accurate communication is invaluable.


With almost 2.4 million Australians – over half a million Victorians – at the very lowest end of the literacy scale, organisations must have the necessary systems in place to cater for their needs. Interpreter services ensure effective and clear engagement with non-English speaking clients.

Qualified and experienced interpreters can offer real-time interaction, encompassing the nuances of verbal. The ubiquity of telephone, video and on-site interpreters makes this a popular and convenient service to access. Furthermore, there are specialised interpreters for areas such as commerce and trade, law and policing, engineering and design, allied health, and many other professional areas.


3 – Audio-Messaging


For frequently repeated messages, real-time interpreters are neither cost-effective, or convenient. Services such as our LiME Multilingual Messaging system enable you to deliver pre-recorded audio to low literacy clients across multiple communication channels. Your existing communications can be easily repurposed. For example, you could transform your brochure into a telephone message line, a convenient delivery channel for a technologically unskilled audience. Alternatively, you might record your FAQs and serve them via sms in multiple languages.

Social media, instant messaging services such as WeChat or WhatsApp, and even good old fashioned email, can be channels for delivering audio. This is an ideal solution for low literacy or non-English speaking clients who are technologically capable.

Don’t let literacy and language be a barrier to creating dialogues with your customers.


Provide your clients with content in their languages, on platforms they are familiar with. Whether it’s a quick sound bite shared via email, or a fun video describing your services, you will encourage meaningful interactions with your clients where they feel valued and respected, by virtue of being the recipients of content created specifically for them.


You can connect to your audience in meaningful ways, regardless of literacy proficiency.


Want to know how you can best serve your low-literacy clients?



  • https://www.inc.com/justin-bariso/the-ai-behind-google-translate-recently-did-somethi ng-extraordinary.html
  • https://www.firstpost.com/tech/news-analysis/the-ai-behind-google-translate-has-crea ted-its-own-language-for-translating-between-languages-3692893.html
  • https://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1162/tacl_a_00065
  • K Cala and A Rowland, ‘Strengthening outcomes and maintaining a high level of settlement services: What are the findings from the Building a New Life in Australia (BNLA) study telling us?’ (May 2016), presentation at the Settlement Council of Australia Conference.
  • Pamela W Garrett, Roberto Forero, Hugh G Dickson and Anna Klinken Whelan, ‘How are language barriers bridged in acute hospital care? The tale of two methods of data collection’, Australian Health Review (2008) 32(4), 760.

“Audio is a great equaliser in terms of Communicating where literacy is an issue.”

Considered, nuanced and creative.

Ellias Appel
Ellias Appel | 5 Apr 2019

Three words that are rarely applied in our clickbait filled, short-attention span, twitter filtered online media landscape*. This is in spite of substantive 1 research suggesting that we need to express exactly those qualities if we want to effectively deliver our organisation’s messages. Add in the obvious barriers when communicating with non-English speaking clients, and you would be understandably intimidated by the challenge provided.

Digital communications make the potential for engagement easier than ever before. But before you jump in and begin creating snazzy ‘solutions focussed’ posts and the occasional cat video, it’s crucial you get know who you’re engaging with, what their literacy and comprehension requirements are, and the real toughie – how to gain their loyalty and trust.

Language needn’t be a barrier, and if you understand the following you can craft meaningful content which is engaging for your non-English speaking clients.

*​yes, we do see the irony of this statement given the title of this piece


1 – Non-English Speakers access their information from many sources


Many organisations depend on interpreters, but not every situation requires one. Non-English speakers use multiple platforms to communicate, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t consider doing the same. This was a lesson the Australian Government learnt way back in 1975 when they formed the precursor to the SBS. Originally the goal of this new radio broadcaster was to communicate key social policy changes to migrants and refugees. (learn more about this in our article on SBS and the history of multilingual media).


“SBS’s popularity presents a prism through which organisation should view (and often need to rethink) their communication methodologies.”


Organisations should take into account the varied digital proficiencies of their audience. What works for some, may not work for all. Skilled migrants, for example, are likely to value messaging apps, social media and on-demand audio content. Conversely, older migrants and refugees may appreciate (or even require) communication via more traditional means (Migliorino, 2016), for example via a ​telephone message service.


2 – Verbal proficiency does not equal literacy ability


It’s not uncommon for non-English speakers to struggle with literacy. The OECD estimates that the ​average rate of illiteracy worldwide is 18.9%, and is as high as 30% in some countries​. Don’t ignore the significance of literacy issues.



Audio-messaging for frequently repeated information introduces efficiencies not available with traditional technologies. Our LiME Multilingual Messaging system enables you to deliver pre-recorded audio to low literacy clients across multiple communication channels. And when those communications become conversations it’s time to involve ​telephone, video and on-site interpreters. With potentially 6 million Australians struggling at the very lowest end of the English literacy and comprehension scale, implementing these systems is a no-brainer.


3 – Non-English speakers probably have as much trouble understanding your accent, as you do understanding theirs


Elongated vowels. Slightly nasal. Finishing sentences with an upward inflection. Oh it’s so easy to do the Australian accent. Yet how many times have you cringed at an American attempting it? Or been perplexed on your travels when you’re asked if you come from London. All accents have an idiolect, shaped by the people you’ve lived with and the culture you’ve grown up in. The Australian accent, can be spoken broader in some areas and more cultivated in others. This doesn’t make it any easier for a foreign to mimic, let alone understand.

Non-English speakers can already find themselves in a ​state of uneasiness​, as they attempt to navigate cultural and linguistic differences when accessing services. Your organisation can ease this process by using messaging services, interpreters and the like to improve communications. We even suggest using ​voice talent with different accents ​for different audiences.




4 – Improving Engagement Builds Better Loyalty


In simple marketing terms, it’s crucial you establish a connection with your clients for them to remain engaged and loyal to your business. And it shouldn’t be any different for your non-English speaking clients. In fact, with the ubiquity of “always-on” technology, it’s more important than ever. Clients expect to receive communications that are personal, accessible and targeted to their needs. If your organisation can achieve this, the ultimate result will be happy clients who feel valued and appreciated.


Don’t be afraid to engage with your clients via social media, and encourage them to see your website, forums and socials as safe places for them to start conversations and ask questions. The more dialogue you can create, and the more deeply engaged they are, the more ownership and agency they will feel. In an ideal world, they will not only be your fans or supporters, but also your stakeholders and spokespeople. For non-English speakers and people from culturally diverse backgrounds, this presents an opportunity to provide them with a sense of belonging.


“Ultimately, your non-English speaking customers have the same needs as you. They require content that is clear, accessible, and targeted to their needs.”





(Spoiler alert: It’s easier than you think.)

Ellias Appel
Ellias Appel | 5 Apr 2019

In the modern age, communication has been transformed into instantaneous, interactive conversations. Your audience is seeking content they can consume where and when they want. They want their information easily accessible and shareable. More than ever before, your clients expect communications to be personal, accessible and targeted to their needs.

This is especially true when we are speaking to low literacy and non-English speaking clients.


“Don’t let Language be a Barrier”


Make your messages meaningful to your audience. More than making them available, make them accessible. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of the richness of digital platforms by using audio and video in the languages your audience understands.


1 – Use the communication platforms they use, delivered in a way they understand


Being efficient in your communication is not about adding or reducing your channels, it’s about getting your messages through. In the case of your non-English speaking clients, or those with low literacy skills, this has traditionally been a difficult problem to solve. Telephone interpreting and video interpreting/telehealth interpreting fill gaps where physical face-to-face interpreting isn’t an option. At the same time, the ubiquity and evolution of ‘always-on communications’ have opened new ways to connect with your clients.



“The flexibility, speed and broad reach of today’s multiple internet platforms allows you to interact with your clients far more effectively.”

(Sawhney, Verona and Prandelli, 2005) 


The classic approach is to think of channels as means of communication, and typically one-way communication. The modern approach, whether through Instant Messaging or Social Media, email, apps or your website, is to view these platforms as tools for engagement. Not every situation justifies having an interpreter involved. Also, just because you are translating your text from one language to another, doesn’t necessarily mean that your messages are accessible to your audience – their barrier may be one of literacy.


“Social media, [chat and the internet], provide the opportunity to connect [using] richer media with greater reach.”

(Sashi, 2012)


Consider using text, audio and video communications to ensure that your audience is accessing your content, regardless of their literacy levels or English comprehension.


2 – Make your content a conversation



The challenge for your organisation is to make sure that your content speaks to your clients needs, and does so in a language and format that they can understand.

Customer engagement is no longer banging on front doors or shouting as loud as you can from the tallest hill you can find. Social media, personalised communications via email or chat, and audio messaging via telephone or web allow you to develop new relationships and nurture existing ones, all the while encouraging a two-way dialogue in which non-English speakers are engaged in meaningful ways.

You can embrace these channels easily, without needing to create new content. Your existing communications can be easily adapted and repurposed. For example, transforming your brochure into a shareable audiogram, or recording your FAQs as audio in another language and make it accessible via a telephone message service.



3 – Establish a Connection


Engagement is about establishing an emotional connection (Sashi, 2012). Sometimes that means directly building a relationship with your clients, but often it means displaying an understanding of their emotional or psychological state. For your clients to feel valued they must perceive that you are creating content for them specifically. In the case of non-English speakers, or those from diverse cultural backgrounds, creating content in their native language shows that you are authentic in seeking to meet their needs.

Digital communications allow and encourage dialogue and input from your audience. While this can be an intimidating prospect for your business or firm, see it as an opportunity to connect more intimately with your audience and understand their needs better, also with a view to improving your products or striving to create better services. This results in your audience operating not only as consumers, but also as your stakeholders and advocates.



“When your client feels valued and connected to your service, they are more likely to feel invested in it.

Language shouldn’t be a barrier to connecting with your audience.”



The anxiety of learning English as a second language, and the challenges non-English speakers face

Elise Hearst
Elise Hearst | 1 Apr 2019

I said, “Do you speak-a my language?”
He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich


If only integrating into Aussie society was as simple as chugging a beer and smashing a vegemite sandwich. With 1 in 4 Australians born overseas, and a thriving international student population, many new residents in Australia need to undergo the daunting task of learning English in adulthood. Extensive research points to significant deficits in terms of access to services and health literacy for Non-English speakers. In most cases the onus falls on the user to gain the requisite skills they need to effectively access public services, including health and welfare systems. On top of this, new arrivals need to manage day-to-day interactions with dinky-di Aussies, who probably won’t be speaking the Queen’s English.

Learning the local language can be an intimidating and anxiety inducing task (Woodrow, 2006). Consider the simple issue of geographically distinct colloquialisms. Ask a Victorian what ‘pluggers’ are and they’ll look at you quizzically. It’s QLD slang for thongs in case you were wondering. Now imagine being invited to a BBQ and being told it’s “casual dress, wear thongs”. A quick trip to google translate would lead you to a very different item of clothing than the common flip-flop. Can you imagine how intimidating this could be for someone learning English?!


In professional circumstances there are many great communication solutions available which can be used to improve engagement with your non-native speakers, and address the inherent deficit in their ability to access your services.


A 2006 paper delivered by Lindy Woodrow (Honorary Senior Lecturer in TESOL¹, University of Sydney) details the results from her study about foreign language anxiety. Woodrow looked at students in their final months of studying English, prior to enrolling in university courses in Australia. The study revealed that learning English as a second language can be a negative and potentially damaging experience both in and out of the classroom (Woodrow, 2006). This may impact a learners’ capacity to master their new language and achieve confidence in handling day-to-day communications.

¹Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

“Anxiety experienced in communication in English can be debilitating”

Lindy Woodrow


Living in a land down under
Where women glow and men plunder


According to the Department of Education, the number of international students in Australia increased by 12% in 2018. Foreign students currently make up more than a quarter of enrolments across varying universities. The majority of these students (31%) hail from China, followed by India, Nepal, Malaysia and Vietnam. Many of these students are seeking to access Permanent Residency in Australia via a Skilled Migration pathway. One of the prerequisites to enrolment is adequate English language skills. Research reveals, however, that in-class anxiety as a consequence of language skill is commonplace, and further research suggests that this anxiety may continue as they enter society and the workforce. This is certainly a concerning situation when we consider that in 2017-2018 there were 111,099 Permanent Residencies delivered under the Skilled Migration stream.

Evidence from Woodrow’s study shows that above all else, the top two stressors in learning English are speaking with native speakers outside of the classroom, and presenting in front of a group. This is not one of those situations where imagining everyone in their underwear is going to solve the underlying issue.

The classroom is a fairly structured and predictable environment, and in that sense it is distinctly different from social, public and workplace environments where there is a high degree of linguistic unpredictability and situational variance. Seemingly trivial interactions with passers-by, or a lack of familiarity with procedures (coupled with a limited ability to convey this), can become a significant issue. The challenge for organisations that interface with Non-English speakers is not just in managing the lack of linguistic competence and comprehension (in their native tongue as well as English), but also in creating an organisational awareness around cultural sensitivities and blind spots.

Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?​ ​You better run, you better take cover


What does this mean for your organisation?

Woodrow’s study suggests that the anxiety experienced by Non-English speakers comes down to three main points

  • Difficulty in navigating unpredictable situations
  • Difficulty in conveying their desired meaning
  • Difficulty in speaking in group scenarios


“Anxiety is clearly an issue in language learning and has a debilitating effect on speaking English for some”

Lindy Woodrow.


There are many rich linguistic resources available to both learners and organisations to lubricate interactions, improve engagement and reduce this inherent anxiety. For example, encouraging participation in social activities, accessing local council and library services, or utilising Non-English resources to build knowledge of and familiarity with services and procedures.

According to the Department of Education, universities are now seeking to diversify their international student population, with figures showing big increases in the numbers of students from Brazil and Colombia. With the international student population growing, and also contributing to a significant number of permanent migrants to Australia every year, service providers should rethink their approach to non-English speaking customers. It is important to take into account cultural sensitivities and potential anxieties, whilst actively seeking ways to improve the effectiveness of and appeal of client interface points. This will ultimately enhance client engagement, improve outcomes and contribute to a culture of inclusion – and that would be, well, bloody bonza mate.


Think about how you can help your customers from non-English speaking backgrounds ease their anxiety.



  • ABS Australian Social Trends 2102.0 June 2009
  • https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/research-and-stats/files/report-migration-program-2017-18.p df


When your child asks for sushi in their lunchbox instead of a white bread vegemite sandwich, you know times have changed.

Elise Hearst
Elise Hearst | 25 Mar 2019

A stroll to your local shopping strip, or a scroll down your preferred food delivery app, reveals a lot about the culinary tastes and trends of our nation. Fish and chips, charcoal chicken, burger and a beer – once synonymous with Aussie culture, no longer dominate the restaurant and take-away market. They have been superseded by souvlakis, pizzas, and sushi; and more recently by curries, banh mi, and of course, the burrito (extra sour cream, extra guac – thanks). According to the data, Australians’ taste in food has evolved beyond meat pies to something far more representative of our status as a prosperous, food-loving multicultural nation. Market research analysts NPD declared in 2018 that ethnic fast food is the most popular cuisine among Australian millennials. It begs the question:

“In 2019, what is Australian food?”


You may as well ask “What does an Australian look like?” There’s no straightforward answer to either. Our palate is as diverse as the attendants at an Australian citizenship ceremony, or an AFL match (sorry, Rugby League if you’re from up north). As the song goes: “We are one, but we are many, and from all the lands on earth we come.” Since colonial times our interest in food has been largely shaped by global trends and waves of migration. An Australian summer staple, the pavlova was named after a visiting Russian dancer in the 1920s (apologies New Zealand, we know you claim its origin, but we’ll still claim it for dessert). Australian pub classic the chicken parma was inspired by an Italian eggplant dish. The well-loved Dim Sim (or “dimmie” as it’s often nicknamed), was in fact an Australian creation by a Chinese restaurateur in Melbourne in the 1940s, and has since become as ubiquitous as Smiths Chips. The Chiko Roll was born from the mind of a Bendigo boilermaker and made its debut in Wagga Wagga, a far cry from the land of the spring roll. But surely, Australian food has to be more complex than a bit of meringue or a deep-fried dumpling?! What does seem to be clear, is that since Australia began welcoming migrants from all backgrounds – regardless of race or religion – so too, have Australians embraced ethnic cuisines, and adapted them in our own unique ways.

“I’ve always said that I think Australian food is defined by the many ethnic communities that have migrated to Australia and the way we have as a collective, embraced their cooking techniques, ingredients and style”

Australian chef Dan Hong


This is evident not only in the changing face of the local takeaway, but in our rabid appetite for cooking shows with their casts of culturally diverse chefs and “reality” players. We can’t get enough of celebrity chefs – from Chinese-Australian Kylie Kwong to Greek-Australian George Calombaris, Malaysian-born Poh Ling Yeow to Vietnamese-Australian Luke Nguyen – and we are certainly happy to patronise their restaurants too. Calombaris, of Masterchef fame, is now the owner of 20 restaurants offering his signature Greek cuisine. In fact, over the last four years, ethnic cuisines such as Mexican, Turkish, Indian, Greek and Italian, have been the fastest growing foodservice categories, with sales increasing by 63%. NPD attributes the rise in popularity to the active participation of millennials in food and restaurant culture. Which perhaps is also code for millennials being very comfortable in the multicultural landscape, perhaps even more so than previous generations.


“Ethnic foods are fast becoming as Aussie as lamingtons and snags wrapped in sliced white bread.”


If we look at cosmopolitan Melbourne as a microcosm of multicultural Australia, you can see how different geographical areas are defined by their cultural specificity. Where the Victorian capital city used to have just Chinatown, there are now many distinct areas that are known for their migrant communities and the cuisines they are famous for. Locals and tourists alike are willing to travel far and wide in search of the next taste sensation. They’ll venture to Richmond just for a Vietnamese Pho, Footscray for Ethiopian injera, Oakleigh for a Greek Moussaka, Balaclava for a bagel, and Box Hill for Yum Cha. As we embrace these immigrant foods we are inadvertently reshaping our use of language, and evolving our national identity, creating pathways to not only appreciating those cultures, but understanding them. This results in immigrant languages and foods appearing in our day to day discourse and slang. Think how quickly Australians can turn a food phrase into a colloquialism: sanger, barbie, smashed avo, barra, snag. And think again about more recent incarnations of popular items on menus: sliders (mini burgers), bowls (rice, noodles), and wraps of any and every kind (falafel, burrito, souvlaki, – wrap it in gluten and we’ll eat it). No need to take an expensive trip to Southeast Asia. Restaurants flagrantly use the terms “hawker food” or “street food” to intimate the authenticity of their offerings.

“Food is the ultimate tool in fostering conversation and understanding between cultures.”


If anything, Australians’ relationship with food signals a shift in attitudes towards diverse cultures, races and religions. Food encourages conversation and understanding. Nick Temple, from Indigenous restaurant Charcoal Lane in Melbourne says, “People talk about Australia not having a cuisine… But when you’re in a space where you don’t recognise half of the ingredients on your plate, you’re not scared to ask questions. And that opens it up to more questions. It makes people recognise how much they don’t know about the country they live in.”What and how we eat changes the way we think about food, how we speak about food, and ultimately how we speak to each other. The feel-good takeaway (excuse the pun) from all this? Our rapid embrace of immigrant foods over the last ten years reflects our country’s capacity for tolerance and integration of an increasingly broad multicultural landscape.

“What’s next on the menu?”


We could hypothesise about the next food trend till the cows (or vegan friendly beef substitutes) come home. But there is no doubt that ethnic foods, just like ethnic culture is now intertwined with our personal identity. And more than ever, it is reflecting the core idea of Australia as a nation of battlers, each of us seeking a chance to flourish and succeed in a sometimes harsh and unforgiving physical and political climate. So, with the latest waves of new migrants coming from countries like South Sudan, Somalia,Iran, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Bhutan, Syria and Iraq, we can definitely expect new food trends. Before long you’ll probably be wrapping your mouth around some new taste sensations, and then, the Australianisation of those new tastes, with accompanying slang drifting into common parlance. So, pass the dead horse, and let’s go get some lunch.

“How have ethnic immigration trends impacted your business? Are you struggling to connect with culturally diverse communities?”


  • https://qsrmedia.com.au/research/news/aussies-spending-more-ethnic-restaurants-study-says
  • https://www.sbs.com.au/food/article/2017/11/12/are-we-any-closer-knowing-what-australian-f ood
  • https://mattersjournal.com/stories/swallowingourhistory
  • https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/apr/05/south-sudan-somalia-and-iran-excluded-from-one-of-australias-refugee-programs

Life is peppered with unexpected events...

Elise Hearst
Elise Hearst | 18 Mar 2019

Life is peppered with unexpected events, tête-à-têtes with bureaucracies, hospital admissions, not to mention parking tickets (so many parking tickets…). If you’ve ever been presented with a legal contract of any kind, a consent form, or a notice from a landlord, then you are well aware of how perplexing and unfamiliar the language often is. Maybe you can read the words (“decoding” in linguistic studies) but that doesn’t equal understanding (comprehension). Companies often count on this barrier; how many mobile phone contracts have you signed without reading the small print?


Evidence suggests that non-English speakers can experience anxiety simply by speaking to native speakers, let alone by finding themselves in unpredictable circumstances or needing to follow unfamiliar procedures. Combine this with literacy and/or vision issues and the barrier to comprehension rises higher and higher. When communicating with low literacy clients and non-English speakers, it is the duty of responsible organisations to be hyper-vigilant in their care and communication, in order to reduce inequity and the risk of causing unintended harm.


Mind the Language Gap –
lack of access to, and understanding the importance of professional interpreter services




Our immigrant population is steadily growing. 1 in 4 Australians are now born overseas, and over 300 languages are spoken in Australia, including Indigenous languages. The addition of a strong skilled migration program, supporting a booming international student body (with majority of students hailing from non-English speaking countries) the use of professionally qualified interpreters is increasingly relevant in service delivery across multiple categories (civic, health, education and legal services being just a few). In 2015 there were over 11,000 judicial hearings (across Federal Court and Review Tribunals, for example), which involved interpreters (Perry & Zornada, 2015). Coupled with statistics around low literacy ​(​14%-46% of Australians), language services play a vital role in establishing understanding and consent, and even “ensuring that justice is in fact done” (Perry & Zornada, 2015).

But unfortunately (and there is always a but), a slew of factors obstruct the institutional use of interpreters, creating concerning scenarios for non-English speakers that, in the worst-cases, may be life threatening.




Take a situation where the non-English speaker is a patient in a hospital where rapid decisions need to be made – an extremely confronting and stressful experience for both patient and family. Research from Sweden and America tells us that the quality, availability of, and access to interpreters varies widely amongst institutions (Schenker, Lo, Ettinger & Fernandez, 2017) (Jungner, 2018). Within the medical field there is a concerning belief that using family members or untrained bilingual staff is an adequate means of communication. Alarming estimates suggest that 20% of Australian GPs do not consider it necessary to use a qualified interpreter to gain informed consent (Promoting the Engagement, 2013).

In the federal court system where there is a necessity for a high professional standard, there is a preference for NAATI-accredited interpreters. Unfortunately they are not always available, resulting in the use of interpreters who may not have the adequate skills to interpret and reconstitute legal jargon (Perry & Zornada, 2015).

The risk of miscommunication, the risk of a lack of parity of meaning, is significant in both of these scenarios, and certainly applies to other fields including welfare, aged care, and government service delivery. When the non-qualified interpreter does not have adequate certifications, and lacks the ability to convey terminology or procedure, or where a cultural barrier exists which inhibits them from discussing certain topics, there is a worrying potential for severe ethical issues, and inequity of outcome.


“In one documented case, a child of 10 years, suffered a severe post-traumatic stress reaction that saw her hospitalised for eight months; ​one of the triggers was being used as an interpreter between her family and medical staff​ for her younger sibling, who died of renal failure at the age of 13 months.”

Promoting the Engagement of Interpreters in Victorian Health Services, 2013.


“Equity is the absence of preventable differences among groups of people”

(World Health Organization, 1948).

Equity, in relation to language services, refers to enabling those with communication deficits to achieve the same level of favourable outcomes as those without deficits.


Closing the gap for the linguistically diverse


Addressing barriers born of linguistic and cultural difference involves a holistic, individualised and cross-platform approach. Luckily we’re in the age of collaborative technologies, allowing organisations to benefit from operational efficiencies while also minimising communication issues. Digital wizardry like ​AI and machine learning can help bridge language gaps for consumers​, but they are yet to have the level of parity with intended meaning that is necessary for professional interactions. For example, a police officer seeking to get a breathalyser test completed by a non-English speaker shouldn’t use Google Translate, likewise a mediator should not use Siri to convey a privacy policy to their client.

In cases such as these, pre-recorded audio can be more effective than written communications, and is more efficient than engaging an interpreter (whose abilities are better suited to two-way conversation). Furthermore audio is fundamental when there is poor literacy and/or vision impairment).

Multilingual messaging services such as LiME are paving the way for equitable service delivery, by delivering pre-recorded audio across multiple communication channels.


According to some studies, there is a clear correlation between the lack of adequate translation and increased healthcare costs (Jungner, 2018). Through the combination of qualified and accredited interpreters and pre-recorded audio messaging, civic, medical and judicial institutions can not only help reduce the stress, anxiety faced by non-English speakers, but also resolve their discrepancies in access and outcome, while also reducing the occurrence of costly mistakes.

Consider the impact of using audio recordings to inform patients of pre-operative procedures, or medication side effects, or lawyers using this approach to ensure their clients fully understand their rights. Where professional interpreter services cannot be used, or there are benefits to adopting other technologies, organisations may look towards cross-platform approaches to prevent repetition and improve efficiencies. The consensus amongst the experts is that communication practices have to change in Australia if we are to make navigating increasingly complex systems, and achieving positive outcomes, accessible to all.

What can you do to create equity for your customers from non-English speaking backgrounds?