“Everybody wants to say who they are and where they're from. And the easiest and cheapest and most universal way of doing that is through their accent.” - David Crystal
Let's talk about the language Down Under!
US News and World Report, alongside the University of Pennsylvania, conducted a survey of 21,000 across 36 countries to find out the world's favourite countries. Australian cleared the top ten and came in strong at 5th place!
Kangaroos, the Sydney Opera House, The Great Barrier Reef...many people dream of visiting Australia one day. English is widely spoken in Australia, but Australian English is different from other Anglophone dialects.
Originating in England, English spread out to other places through colonisation. Over hundreds of year, distinct forms of English dialects have localised in places like Australia and the US and now the English spoken in those places is very different from when it first left Britain!
There are many different English accents out there, and if you want to learn Australian English you'll need to think about the accent, idioms, grammar forms...
But what is Australian English?
Let’s take a look at this unique form of English...
The Linguistics of Australian English
For a long time, Australia was a colony of Britain and only gained independence in 1901. Before then, English spoken in Australia was influenced primarily by British English.
During the gold rush in the 19th century, American prospectors arrive and influenced Australian English. They brought with them new words, terminology and grammar originating in North American English. Words such as "digger" and "dirt" entered the Australian vocabulary, and later on, "truck" and "freeway".
More recently, Australian English has been influenced by American popular culture through global media and the internet. All these influences combine to make Australian English the language it is today.
If you know a little English already, visiting Australia should be a breeze. Whether you'll be finding work in Canberra, hiking through Tasmania or studying in Sydney, your existing English knowledge will come in handy.
Australia tends to be very welcoming and safe for visitors, which makes it ideal for learning English. You'll have the opportunity to visit cultural sites and natural wonders such as Uluru or the Great Barrier Reef, and it's a quick hop across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand, where you can sample yet another regional English accent in the form of Kiwi!
Australia is an excellent destination for those interested in mastering English! The further out you go from larger cities, the stronger Australian accents tend to be, and the more difficult to understand. So if you plan to travel through the countryside, focus your listening skills!
With plenty of opportunities for study, work and play, Australia can be a fun place to learn English.
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What's special about Australian English?
“There is no such thing as an ugly accent, like there's no such thing as an ugly flower.” - David Crystal
Linguistically speaking, there are three types of Australian English, which usually depend on the speaker's level of education, social class, or whether the person lives rurally or in a big city.
Australian English has a history going back over 200 years. When Europeans colonized and eventually founded the Colony of New South Wales, there was a diverse range of English, Irish and even a few German settlers.
There are a lot of similarities between English spoken in Australia and New Zealand, but each variety has its own distinct identity.
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Because of historical and cultural ties, many people see Australian English as just a mix of American English and British English. But Australian English is unique in its own way.
When travelling to Australia, the first thing you'll notice is the accent! Broader accents will be a little more tricky to understand, but accents from the capital cities are more neutral.
For example, a hard "a" sound will sometimes be pronounced with an "e" or even and "i" sound! So the word "cat" could sound like "ket" or "kit" to a non-Australian, depending on the type of Australian accent you're listening to. You may also hear the "ou" sound pronounced more like "eah". So the farewell "See you!" will sound more like "See yeah!". So many vowels change in Australian English - "i" and "ee" sounds will sometimes come out as "eah" as well. So "See you!" could sound like "Seah yeah!" from someone with a very strong accent. If you spend any time in Australia, you soon pick up this regional inflection.
You make take a few days or hours to get accustomed to the accent in your daily life, whether you'll be studying, getting a visa, looking for work, or just chatting with the locals. Australian English often won't follow the pronunciation you learnt in English class at school!
Australians also have a rich vocabulary of slang words in their dialect, many of which aren't used at all outside Australia. Here are some terms to jot down...
- Mate: this generally means "friend", but you may hear Australians punctuate everyday sentences with this word, even if they're speaking to someone who isn't a friend at all!
- G'day: short for "good day" - use this in place of hello or hi and you will sound very typically Australian!
- Aussie: this means an Australian person, or you can use it as an adjective to describe something stereotypically Australian
- Drongo: this is an insult for someone who is a fool or a dummy.
- Hooroo: this is very old, regional slang for "goodbye"
- Ripper: use this to describe something "amazing", "awesome", "great" or in place of "super"
- Gander: this one comes from Cockney rhyming slang brought over by English convicts when Australia was colonised. To "have a gander" means to take a look at something!
In terms of spelling Australian English generally follows British conventions. "Colour" will be spelt with an 'ou' and the 'ise' suffix stay with an s rather than the American "ize". That means in Australia, you spell it "realise" and not "realize"!
Australian English is a fascinating variant with a rich vocabulary and many peculiarities. These unique features distinguish Australian English from the American dialect and British English and mean that Australian English has its own linguistic identity.
Having said that, English is such an international language, that there is plenty of overlap with other forms of English!
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Similarities To Other Forms of English
Historically speaking, Australian English has been influenced mostly by the UK. However, it also blends components of Irish English, Cockney Rhyming Slang and even American English. If you're thinking of working in Australia, best to get used to the accent first and foremost!
Do you want to live in Australia long-term and speak like a genuine Aussie? There are plenty of grammatical elements that differ from state to state.
Australians have borrowed a lot of grammar forms from British English. Take the past tense of certain verbs, for example; “smell” becomes “smelt” and “spell” becomes “spelt”.
British English also has a strong influence on Australian pronunciation, even though they may seem quite different at first. To master the Aussie accent, don't pronounce the 'r' sound on the end of -er words like 'later' or 'better'. These will have a longer 'ah' sound at the end, sounding more like 'lay-tah' or 'bet-tah'.
The correct way to pronounce numbers varies, although generally Australian English follow the American English conversation. Usually, you'll hear 1200 said 'twelve hundred' instead of 'one thousand two hundred', although people will certainly understand both!
Just like all the other English dialects around the world, there are plenty of differences in terms of grammar and vocabulary. Throughout history, Australian English has formed its own independent identity with regards to expressions, accent and quintessentially Australian approach to language.
So, you ready to book the next flight to Australia?
There are English speakers across the globe and English is spoken differently in each country. English words may have unique meanings in different countries, and there are many particular phrases, nouns, pronunciations and a rich range of fascinating slang traditions. If Australian English doesn't appeal to you, try checking out Scottish or Irish English.
There are also many interesting forms of English and particular dialects in places where English is the second or third language. The English-speaking world is a huge and varied place and you will discover that words that have one meaning in one place may indicate something totally different in another place! Familiarising yourself with new English dialects is all part of the charm of learning English.