Culturally and linguistically diverse students

CALD describes the diversity of the Australian population in terms of language, ethnicity, nationality, tradition, dress, food, societal structure, art and religion. It is generally used to refer to people for whom English is not their principal language or who have a background that is not Anglo-Saxon. However, we need to acknowledge that everyone has a culture, and recognise the dominant and privileged position of Western culture in our society.

Ways of seeing cultural and linguistic diversity

It important to recognise that we live on the lands of the world’s longest continuing culture; Indigenous Australia has been multicultural for over 60,000 years and made up of hundreds of Indigenous languages and cultures. However, Australia experienced colonisation and welcomed the migration of people from across the globe. In contemporary Australia, Australian citizens and permanent residents represent a diverse group of people from different countries, cultures, and religions. Nearly half of all Australians were either born overseas or have one or more parents born overseas. More than 300 languages are spoken in Australian homes [1].

In the higher education context, this diversity is reflected in the student and staff population. The Deakin student community includes people whose backgrounds are culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD). While a portion of these students are residents of Australia, known as ‘domestic’ students, others are residents of countries other than Australia and come to Deakin as ‘international’ students. In 2021, Deakin welcomed 11,043 international students from 133 distinct overseas countries – 17.4% of our total student population.

See teaching Indigenous Australian students for specific information on Indigenous Australians.

Ways of knowing cultural and linguistic diversity

Deakin staff are highly mobile and involved in international collaboration, research.  Our students are equally mobile and are encouraged to develop skills in ‘global citizenship’, which is one of Deakin’s eight key learning outcomes.

Globally, more people than ever before are choosing to undertake an international education. The large-scale movement of students between education systems means that academics need to consider the learning and teaching implications of the increased numbers of international students in university classes.

(Arkoudis, n.d, p. 5)

Student diversity enriches the social and academic life and student experience here at Deakin. Yet in order to fully realise the personal, social and academic benefits of such cultural and linguistic diversity, inclusive practices are vital. In education terms, this can be termed culturally inclusive pedagogy.

(Deakin University 2022)

Top 5 source countries for international students studying at Deakin University in 2017 & 2021 Text alternative

[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016 Census media release

*Thank you to RMIT’s Guide to Inclusive Language for some of this information in relation to culture, ethnicity and religion.

Ways of teaching cultural and linguistic diversity

There are many ways we can recognise CALD students’ individuality and uniqueness in the Australian higher education sector. When planning and delivering your teaching you can have a positive impact by focusing on areas such as curriculum design, learning activities, your teaching practices, assessment. The following section will dive deeper into the ways you can pursue best practice in using inclusive language.

Ways of using inclusive language

We need to be inclusive of Australia’s diversity and use language accordingly. Unnecessary references to someone’s cultural or religious background can create the idea that the person referred to is different – and can reinforce a notion that they are a ‘special case’. If cultural distinctions are important, try to use specific descriptors such as Australian-born Chinese or Arabic-speaking Australian, or phrases that refer to a person or group’s background or origin, for example, an Australian of Sri Lankan background. If possible use the terminology the person prefers.  When naming it is important to follow these conventions: Use ‘given name’ instead of Christian name or first name; use ‘family name’ instead of last name; use CALD instead of Non-English Speaking Background (NESB), English as an Additional Language (EAL), Language other than English (LOTE). Refer to the name of the person instead of colour of their skin, physical appearance, ethnicity or visa status.

Curriculum design

Providing an international curriculum promotes and develops the core values of global awareness, global citizenship and intercultural competence. Internationalisation of curriculum involves embedding global, international and multicultural dimensions in curriculum design, learning activities, teaching practice, learning activities, assessment, and evaluation (Barker 2011).

Learning activities

You can support the development of graduate students as globally competent and inter-culturally aware citizens by incorporating local, global and multicultural perspectives in learning activities; encouraging critical reflection on societal issues and problems from a variety of perspectives and explore how these cultures influence knowledge construction and the application of knowledge in your discipline. These are good starting points so be sure to continue reading below for more practical tips and approaches.

Teaching practices

When approaching planning and teaching CALD students be sure to cultivate culturally open, inclusive, sensitive and mutually respectful teacher-student engagement and a safe learning environment. Even undertaking small steps such as getting students’ names right, avoiding stereotypes and respecting and allowing for silence can be a start to establishing a safe and inclusive learning environment.

Assessment tasks

Assessment tasks should assess global citizenship competencies, knowledge and skills. Being sure that all students can relate to the content is paramount to creating inclusive assessment:

Some assignment questions that we set advantage one group over the other, like getting students to critique something that is inherently Australian, that has cultural values that are Australian. What would students who have come from Malaysia be able to contribute to this assignment? Unless if somewhere in the assignment it says to take a different world perspective and ask whether from other countries look at it the some way. You then start to give other cultures that sort of chance at being valued members of the team. Unless you create that situation, why would you want to have someone who is a liability in your group for assignment work when they don’t have that background knowledge that you have?

Academic (Arkoudis n.d, p. 15)

When creating inclusive assessment aim to include global and intercultural perspectives, allow for comparative exercises and draw connections between cultural contexts and disciplinary knowledge. For more tips, continue reading below.

References and adapted sources

For further information on inclusivity and assessment tasks please check the references and adapted sources below.


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