OBJECTIVE To compare the rates and predictors of smoking uptake between adolescents speaking English and those speaking a language other than English (LOTE) at home. DESIGN A cross-sectional survey of year 7 and 8 students (aged 12 and 13 years) was conducted in 1994 and repeated 12 months later. A cohort of students was identified with respondents at baseline matched at follow up. chi 2 and logistic regression were used for analysis. SETTING 38 schools in southern, east, and northern Sydney, Australia. SUBJECTS Year 7 and 8 students in the schools were included and examined on two occasions, with complete data for 5947 (80%) students at baseline and 6177 (98%) students at a 12-month follow up. Records were able to be matched perfectly for 3513 respondents (59%). MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES Smoking rates and predictors of smoking uptake among students speaking English or a LOTE at home. RESULTS At baseline, 6.1% of students surveyed were smokers. Twelve months later, 15.8% of student surveyed were smokers. There were significantly lower smoking rates among students speaking a LOTE at home compared with those speaking English at home at baseline and at 12 months. Using matched data, for students speaking English at home, five variables were significant predictors of smoking uptake: thinking it acceptable to smoke, perceived benefits of smoking, and having a brother, sister, or close friend who smokes. For students speaking a LOTE, the only predictor was the smoking status of close friends. CONCLUSIONS Despite the higher smoking prevalence among men with a non-English-speaking background, and the reported strong association between fathers' smoking status and smoking onset of their children, adolescents speaking a LOTE at home were significantly less likely to be smokers than their English-speaking counterparts. Thus, there would seem to be a delay of smoking onset among students speaking a LOTE at home. The smoking rates among respondents speaking a LOTE at home in this study are lower than those obtained from the studies conducted in Europe and the United States. Effective smoking prevention interventions need to be implemented at an early stage of adolescence.