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Australian English: What you need to know if coming to Australia

Study English prior to relocating

If you are moving to Australia and you are not confident about your English, then taking language classes is a good investment of your time! Learning the language also gives you an insight into the culture of a country. It helps you understand not only what people are saying but why they behave as they do. Australians hold many qualities dear and this is reflected in the language they use. Among those qualities are:

  • Humour
  • Mateship
  • Loyalty
  • Informality
  • Egalitarianism
  • Being Genuine and unpretentious
  • Being Easy-going
  • Being Humble
  • Positivity

Why is Australian English so unique?

We are often asked why Australian English is different to British English or American English. The Australian National Dictionary records over 10 000 Australianisms, 'those words and meanings of words which have originated in Australia’. Australian English started with the arrival of the 11 ships of the First Fleet in 1788 and each of those ships carried people from different areas of England with different dialects.

As they communicated with each other they adopted words from each dialect. Today many of the words originating in different parts of England are still use: ‘dunny ‘meaning toilet, a ‘larrikin’ comes from Warwickshire and is a troublemaker, while a ‘bingle’ is used to describe two cars colliding which comes from the Cornish ‘bing’ for a bang or thump. As they began to settle newcomers turned to the local aborigines to ask the name of unfamiliar things such as plants and animals and therefore the language became richer still. Words such as ‘kangaroo,’, ‘koala’, ‘boomerang’ and ‘cooee’ which was used to mean ‘within earshot’ are all aboriginal words. Many of those coming to Australia were convicts who used their own slang, still found in Australian English today. An example of this would be the convicts’ word for a collection of stolen goods which was a swag. Gradually any bundle of goods became a swag and the person carrying the swag was a swagman, made famous in Australia’s song ‘Waltzing Matilda’.

The convicts certainly had influence on the way Australian’s think even today: loyalty is highly regarded while people in authority are not always. ‘Dobbing’ is used to describe reporting someone to the authorities. It is not good to be a ‘dobber’! Australians are proudly egalitarian. You may find someone whom you have met for the first time calling you ‘mate’ and maybe surprised at the lack of the respect that language affords people in senior positions. An example of this is that politicians are often referred very causally as ‘pollies’.

You may also be surprised at the gentle insults Australians use to work colleagues or acquaintances such as calling someone a ‘boofhead’ if they are clumsy. This is actually showing inclusiveness and a way of being friendly! Abbreviations are rampant in Australia: sunglasses become ‘sunnies’, breakfast becomes’ brekkie’, afternoon becomes ‘arvo’, football becomes ‘footie’ and there are over 5000 other examples! It is thought that abbreviations are popular because they want to seem less formal, more friendly and definitely not pretentious! Australians are well known to be ‘laid back’.

If you are stressing about something, don’t be surprised to hear someone telling you ‘She’ll be right!’ or ‘No worries’ Yet it is the humour behind some of the Australian colloquialisms which newcomers really enjoy! When you are angry about something you may be told not to ‘spit the dummy’; if you are not a generous person you may be accused of having ‘short arms and long pockets’, if you are working hard you may be ‘flat out like a lizard drinking’ or if someone is regarded as strange they may be referred to as having ‘a few kangaroos loose in the top paddock’.

There are endless examples of these sayings which add to the richness of the language which is ever evolving! You have so much to discover before your adventure begins ‘Downunder’.

 

 

Kathy Nunn is a director of Elite Woodhams Relocation www.ewrelocation.com and Aussie Relocation website. www.aussierelocation.com.

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