Improving adult literacy

Communication and Health Literacy

Main points

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  1. Literacy is one of the strongest predictors of health status.
  2. There are many ways health and community workers can support literacy. Letting people know about Tasmania’s 26TEN program is an easy way to start.

Literacy is one of the strongest predictors of health status, along with age, income, employment status, education level and ethnic group. Understanding of literacy as a critically important determinant of health continues to grow globally.[i]­

Many people working in Tasmania’s health, human and community services want to help people improve their literacy skills. This sheet provides guidance.

1. Be aware and respectful of the many reasons people may be reluctant to seek literacy support

Common reasons for people to hesitate to seek help improving their literacy skills are:

  • unpleasant past learning experiences
  • cost and lack of time, transport and/or childcare
  • unhelpful thoughts, including lack of confidence, thinking literacy is not relevant to them, fear of embarrassment and thinking that learning will take too much effort
  • having a main language that isn’t English
  • not knowing about the individually-tailored, free support that’s available
  • not knowing how to get started.

2. Tell people about 26TEN

26TEN is a network of organisations and individuals working to improve adult literacy in Tasmania, helping everyone get the skills they need for work and life. 26TEN represents the 26 letters of the alphabet and ten numbers.

When someone contacts 26TEN for help, staff work with them to identify the best literacy program for them. They use a wide range of programs provided by organisations around Tasmania.

These organisations include:

  1. LINC Tasmania, which provides free one-on-one support and small group activities to help people with reading, writing and maths through a team of trained and supported volunteers. People learn at times that suit them, in places that are safe, private and convenient for them. There are no tests or exams.
  2. Some Neighbourhood Houses, which provide adult and family literacy programs.
  3. Mission Australia, which provides free speaking, listening, reading, writing and math training for job-seekers in Burnie, Devonport, Launceston and Hobart.
  4. TasTAFE, which provides reading, writing and maths assistance for people doing trainee or apprentice courses.Read it, write it, make it count! The 26TEN website presents stories from people around Tasmania who have benefited through 26TEN. For more information, go to the 26TEN website,  email: or talk to the people at 26TEN by phoning 1300 002 610 (at the cost of a local phone call).

3. Offer to contact 26TEN with the person

Sometimes people feel nervous picking up the phone to ask about services. You can help by offering to call 26TEN with the person. It’s simple. Just say “How about we give them a call together right now?”

4. Volunteer to help

Most 26TEN providers recruit volunteers to assist with literacy support, and provide training and support for volunteers. For more information go to the 26TEN website, email: or phone
1300 002 610.

5. Communicate clearly

Seek feedback on what you write because communicating clearly benefits everyone. If you have trouble filling in a form or understanding a procedure, policy or other document let the author know, so they can improve their clarity.

[i] World Health Organisation. The Solid Facts. WHO Regional Office for Europe, Copenhagan, 2013

January 2019