English First: Helping or Hindering Multiculturalism?

Mandating English signage and allowing limited translation amounts to a de facto policy of English as an official language. It signals, in effect, an attitude of multicultural tolerance, not a policy of active multiculturalism –   Alice Chik Senior Lecturer in Literacy, Macquarie University

​Strathfield City Council recently voted for a motion that states:

All signage is to be displayed in the English language, with a direct or near direct translation into another language using smaller letters or character … [which] must not exceed more than 30% of the overall size of the English language text.

​However 68.5% of the Strathfield households speak one of 58 languages in addition to English with the biggest language groups being Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Korean, Tamil and Arabic. It must be questioned if limiting the translation space to 30% is in the interests of the inclusivity and multiculturalism.


Image from http://junkee.com

​This is not the first time that councils have required English to be put up on store fronts.

Other councils (Rockdale, Auburn, Marrickville and Hurstville) have already ordered businesses to use English signs, which has previously sparked debate.

Whether a business loses potential customers because they have not advertised in English is a matter for that business… We need to consider where this will lead us -Stepan Kerkyasharian, chairman of the NSW Community Relations Commission

Outright racist… I don’t mind if every business has an English name, but to force shops to translate every single word on their shopfront into English is a stupid, divisive idea. It borders on paranoia and it could be illegal because it’s anti-competitive. It should be up to the shopkeeper how they promote their business – ​Saeed Khan, Marrickville Councillor

​”I think having signs in a range of languages is welcoming and inclusive … It makes sense, it avoids a lot of the backlash … it will be better for the businesses.” Thang Ngo, Fairfield City councillor

The City of Sydney not only demands that signs in Haymarket (including Chinatown) are written in both English and Chinese, and must also be in traditional Chinese colours “in keeping with the usage of the building”.

In November 2017, Parramatta council investigated a sign at a northern Sydney apartment complex written in Chinese, with no English translation. The developers of the apartment block admitted the sign was a deliberate tactic to attract Chinese investors.

Former Mayor Lorraine Wearne says that many Epping locals have complained to her about the sign. “I think it offends the community, because it doesn’t include the community,” Ms Wearne said.

It should be noted that under 50% of Epping residents speak English only, with Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin) being the next most prominent language as well as the most common ancestry.

There is actually no law in Australia requiring signs such as these to be in English. The developer was required to cover up the sign due to an improper application (not actually because of the lack of translation on the sign).



​The Strathfield proposal was open for public consultation but closed on the 15th of June this year.
https://www.strathfield.nsw.gov.au/assets/Council-Meetings-2018/Draft-Minutes-Council-Meeting-10-April-2018.pdf p13
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