I had a few entries on this in September 2006, starting here. In the past, because it was my business as an ESL teacher to do so, I had spent many an hour going through census figures suburb by suburb seeing just how many people in Sydney spoke English and what their backgrounds were. I did this partly to explain to my colleagues, some of whom had been rather amazed by the phenomenon, how Sydney High went from around 50% language background other than English in the mid 1990s to over 80% today, especially given that after boundaries were done away with the school drew most of its population from the west rather than the east of the city.
I hadn’t really linked English use with religious affiliation, however, and it does seem, given much that has been said over the past few years, that many associate inability or unwillingness to speak English with Islam.
It turns out to be an urban myth.
See English take-up speaks volumes for Muslims: “Catholics are the religious group identified on census forms as having the highest total number of non-English speakers, while Buddhists have the highest proportion of poor or non-speakers, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics surveys for 1996 and 2001. The number of people without English skills in ethnic and religious communities is low and has been falling for a decade. Muslim people reflect the average.”
I might add I live in one of Sydney’s “Little Lebanons”. My observations of the coffee shop downstairs show that the people from Abdul’s and their friends read The Daily Telegraph (I wonder how they cope with Piers Akerman?) and the Arabic newspapers. I never converse with these neighbours in Arabic, for rather obvious reasons. If they are religious, they may well converse with God in Arabic, as Catholics used to in Latin. Fortunately there is nothing wrong with their English, even if some of their wives wear scarves around their heads. And, I might add, often seem to “wear the pants”…
This relates more to the comments than the post, but is so good I want you to know about it: A Liberal’s [US usage] Pledge to Disheartened Conservatives. Great! For example, “We will respect your religious beliefs, even when you don’t put those beliefs into practice. In fact, we will actively seek to promote your most radical religious beliefs (‘Blessed are the poor,’ ‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’ ‘Love your enemies,’ ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,’ and ‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’). We will let people in other countries know that God doesn’t just bless America, he blesses everyone. We will discourage religious intolerance and fanaticism — starting with the fanaticism here at home, thus setting a good example for the rest of the world.”