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?



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  • 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.”