Purpose This paper offers an exploration of contextual factors that influence carer-to-resident talk in Australian residential aged care. Design/methodology/approach A qualitative exploratory multiple case study methodology and a theoretical framework of service language were applied to explore the perspectives of 21 registered nurses, assistants in nursing, leisure and lifestyle officers, general managers and care managers at three residential aged care homes in Australia. Findings The findings demonstrate contextual factors related to the care home environment, the carer and the relationship between carers and residents that impede or enable carer-to-resident talk in residential aged care. Multiple factors related to the care home environment were found to impede carer-to-resident talk, including time pressures, staffing levels, team culture and the prioritisation of tasks. Factors related to carers had potential to either impede or enable talk, including carers' awareness of the importance of communication, level of experience and individual characteristics, values and attitudes. A strong relationship between a carer and resident built on knowledge of individuals was a key enabling factor. Originality/value The paper advances an understanding of factors that influence talk and interaction in residential aged care in Australia from carers' and care home leaders' perspectives. The findings can be used to support verbal communication management strategies aligned with a person-centred care approach, including training and development of staff, cultural change interventions and a review of care delivery procedures.