Guide to Australian English for tourists

by Will Norquay

English has been spoken in Australia since 1788. For over 200 years, it has been undergoing constant changes in vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar and spelling. When travelling through Australia you may be surprised how significantly Australian English differs from British and American English. To make sure your Australian adventure goes smoothly, have a look at this pocket guide to Australian English phrases, which are most confusing for foreigners.

For old times’ sake

Aussies are particularly proud of their Aboriginal heritage. More and more places connected with the indigenous people have now their proper names in two languages – standard Australian English and traditional Aboriginal. Also, quite a few everyday words are borrowed from Aboriginal languages, particularly the names of the animals, like coolibah, wombat, and wallaby. Other terms, most commonly used by Australians, include:

Little wordplay

Like no other nation in the world, Australians love to have fun with their language - they treat it as a living organism. Only in the Australian variety you will find a wide selection of shortenings and diminutives, which have a completely different meaning than you may expect:

While on holidays, you will surely discover how distanced and relaxed most of the Aussies are. They call themselves Banana Benders (goes for residents of Queensland), Apple Eaters (people from Tasmania), Crow Eaters (residents of South Australia) or simply Joe Bloggs (ordinary citizens). When someone is referring to Buckley’s chance to talk sense into someone, it means they actually have no chance at all. In restaurants, the waiter may offer you a bonzer bug. Don’t be afraid though, as he recommends an excellent crab (Moreton Bay bug). And it will be truly num-num (tasty)! Interestingly, Oz (as in Oz-tralia) has probably the highest population of Sheilas in the world, as it is a common way to say ‘female’ or ‘woman’.

Don’t lose count

An important thing to have in mind is that since 1970 Australia has taken on the Metric system. Celsius degrees, litres, kilogrammes and kilometres may pose some difficulties, especially for American and British travellers, therefore make sure to take a look at Metric-Imperial Units conversion site to avoid any ambiguities.

What did you just say?

Modern vocabulary may be one thing, but Australian pronunciation is a completely different story. Before going on holidays to Australia you may be convinced you know English perfectly well, or that your native tongue has no secrets from you. As soon as you leave the airport, you will realize that you have to re-evaluate everything you thought you knew.

Despite all that, linguistic differences turn out to be more amusing than troublesome, so don't get too irritated when someone asks you to have some Amber this arvo. They just want to take you out for a beer!

About the writer

Will Norquay is part of the team at Stayz. He likes to discover new places around the world and share his experiences and stories with other travellers and learners.


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