The government is considering mandatory English classes for anyone trying to become a permanent resident of Australia, because of figures that suggest a growing number of people can't speak English.

"Australia's multicultural model has been built on integration where communities merge together, where we play together, where we work together," said Multicultural Affairs Minister Alan Tudge, who says "close to a million" permanent residents lack basic English skills.  He also claims that in some suburbs, up to one in three people "cannot speak the national language well or at all".

In 1981, about 300,000 permanent residents couldn't speak English.  By 2016, that grew to 820,000, according to government figures.  Although the 190,000 people who gain permanent residency every year must prove their English skills, their family members - spouses, children, and so on - do not.

"Everyone should recognise that we all have a vested interest in being able to converse and engage in our national language," said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

But getting to such a requirement could be difficult, given last year's rejection of the coalition's attempt to require new citizens to pass a Level 6, or university-level, English test.  Mr. Turnbull said any new test would assess a much less stringent requirement of "conversational" or "primary-school" level English.