Listen while reading
Download

Slang and twang make the English spoken Down Under stand out from other varieties. For learners, being relaxed, even a little lazy, will help you fit right in with the locals. Erin Walton explains.
Text by: Erin Walton
Country: Australia

he Australian accent—with its shortened slang and nasal twang —is noticeably different from other “Englishes”. In fact, the word “Strine” has been invented to describe it, referring in particular to its very broad spoken form. (“Strine” even comes from how the word “Australian” sounds when said in a very broad accent.)

However, as soon as you arrive in Australia, you’ll see that this stereotypical accent doesn’t belong to everyone. While Australian accents don’t vary along geographical lines as dramatically as they do in England or America (which surprises many learners, given the country’s enormous expanse), linguists agree there are three main variations spoken: broad (a thick, nasal accent with drawn-out vowel sounds), general (the way most Australians speak) and cultivated (associated with British pronunciation).

Tranquil talk

“More relaxed” is how most people, Australian or not, describe the Aussie way of talking. Relaxed—even lazy. “I would visualise a long flat line … and you try and just keep your words going along that flat line, don’t go up and down,” says comedian Denise Scott in the documentary “The Sound of Aus”.

Australian actress Rachel Griffiths agrees, saying, “You have to imagine your tongue is lying over an exercise ball, in your mouth, it’s just leaning back. And you can’t let it get too busy.” Voice coach Victoria Mielewska explains that this sensation is based on the soft palate relaxing in the mouth, though a popular myth would have us believe that this inactive speaking form is due to a need to keep the mouth small to prevent flies from flying in.

6 signs of Aussie English

These six tendencies will help you recognise it. While each is not necessarily unique to Australia, the combination helps give Australian English its flavour.

The ‘r’ at the end of a word is pronounced ‘–ah’. “We’ve got the flattest ‘r’ in the world,” says Rachel Griffiths in “The Sound of Aus”. This flat ‘r’ is demonstrated in countless words ending with ‘r’, such as car, river, together; pronounced cah, rivah, togethah.

Australians add ‘r’s where they aren’t. As if it weren’t enough to remove ‘r’s, Australians also add them as connectors between words when one vowel sound follows another. You can see this in action in the following sentence: “Fiona is coming,” which an Australian would say as “Fionariz coming”. Why? Most people say it’s to make the sentence flowfaster.

Australian English slang terms are often made into diminutives (shortened) by adding –o or –ie. Common examples of these diminutives are arvo for afternoon, barbie for barbeque or servo for service station.

There is a tendency to end statements with a rising intonation. This can make it sound like Australians are continually asking questions.

Some words with three syllables are squashed into two. Watch out for lyebry (library) and batry (battery)

The ‘o’ sound is particularly elongated, almost as if two syllables. Visitors often comment on how long our “no” becomes. Australian actress Candice Moll recommends that Americans wanting to replicate this ‘o’ sound think of “no” as a “nar” but to drop off the –r after.

Learning Australian English

English learners used to prefer studying in the UK, to learn what they feel is the original and therefore the best form of English, or in the US, to learn the English of mass culture. However, these days there are far more options for study, and Australia, thanks to its famously sunny weather, never-ending beaches, continent-sized collection of tourist destinations, and good foodie scene, has become increasingly popular.

But with all those oddities in the language itself, what’s it like to learn English in Australia? Colombian Patricia Duran and Chilean Sebastián Suazo have both been in Australia for the past four years. “When I arrived I barely knew anything so it was very difficult at the start,” says Patricia. The speed, she remembers, was challenging, as was the vocabulary. “It was pretty hard for me to understand even the most basic words. The accent is difficult, and there is a huge variety of slang words.” Thinking back to his first days in Australia, Sebastián agrees. “Australian English is full of expressions and slang. The people also speak really quickly. However, I always felt comfortable because in Chile we speak fast and have a lot of interesting expressions. It felt natural to me.”

Street slang

This active use of slang can also make it difficult for Australians to speak with visitors and immigrants. Aimee Colson, an Australian/New Zealander, says it’s a question of learning to curb your speech as much as possible for the listener. Because of her Hungarian and Swiss descent and relatives whose first language is not English (the case of so many Australians whose ancestry is a mixed bag!), she’s well-practiced at modifying her word choices for learners. Surprisingly, she says, others don’t do this. “I’m always astounded at how my boyfriend will say a complicated word or slang term to someone without even trying to simplify his speech. I often notice it and it really annoys me!” Sydney ’s Rebecca Anderson has had similar experiences. “My parents always had homestay students, and I’ve taught English overseas, so I’m careful not to use difficult expressions or slang without giving context.”

While slang can cloud communication at first, its uniqueness in its country of origin also creates a common language. Sebastián loves using shortened names for occupations (muso, journo, tradie…), and Patricia lists breaky (breakfast), go to the ladies (go to the women’s toilets) and drink with the flies (drink alone) among her favorite expressions. But she feels Australians go too far with slang, taking it into environments that aren’t appropriate, like politics. “Australian English is perfect for relaxed conversations,” she explains. “But I think it’s too informal for serious conversations.”

The fluency trick

As for when fluencyhit”, Sebastián remembers understanding most of what he heard after six months in Australia, then feeling completely comfortable interacting with locals after two and a half years. Patricia agrees. “At about eight months I felt more comfortable speaking and I understood around 60 percent. Now I’m far more fluent and I understand around 90 percent.”

After all the differences, do learners recommend Australian English? Patricia is clear: “In terms of Australian English itself, honestly, I wouldn’t. I think it’s kind of harsh -sounding. But for the experience of living and working in Australia I would recommend it 110%.” Sebastián is enthusiastic about the language. “I really like it. I think it’s a fun style of English. Sure, the accent can be difficult to understand at times, but what language isn’t?”

Australians overseas

Given their different accent and host of colorful Australian characters (e.g., Steve Irwin, Crocodile Dundee, Barry Humphries), do Australians feel conspicuous when travelling overseas? Aimee, a regular traveller, says her accent would interest locals to the point of laughter. “I’ve definitely been made fun of,” she remembers. “When I was in America they would all say ‘Can you please just talk … say anything!’” The famous elongated “o” evident in the Australian no, go, show and other such words also drew attention. “I often got people trying to say ‘no’ like I do. It’s one thing Americans were stumped by. ‘Naw… naaw, noaww’, they’d try. They just couldn’t get it.”

Rebecca laughs as she recounts confusing moments in the UK and US “I remember saying something was full on, exxy or refer to my rellies, and getting some weird looks. People would also point out the added ‘r’ between words or how it would sound like I was asking a question when I wasn’t.”

SLANG TERMS YOU’LL HEAR

Don’t expect to hear “fair dinkum,” “true blue” and “sheila”. Languages evolve and popular slang comes and goes. As recommended by visitors and locals, here are a few terms you’ll almost certainly hear on your visit to Australia.

FOOD CLOTHING
Barbie – barbeque
Breaky – breakfast
Choccy biccy – chocolate
Chook – chicken
Cab sav – cabernet sauvignon
Snag – sausage
Tea – dinner
Sanger – sandwich
Avo – avocado
Vegetarian – veggo
Brolly – umbrella
Bathers, togs, cozzie – swimsuit
Tracksuit pants – tracky daks
Budgie smugglers – men’s swimsuit, Speedos
OCCUPATIONS PEOPLE
Tradie – tradesman
Sparkie – electrician
Brickie – bricklayer
Garbo – rubbish collector
Journo – journalist
Gyno – gynecologist
Postie – postal worker
Muso – musician
Bogan – redneck, similar to the English chav
Polly – politician
Bludger – someone who doesn’t pull their weight, lazy
Ankle biter – little kid
Hoon – hooligan, in particular in a hotted up car
Oldies – parents (“I’ll have to ask my oldies”)
Rellies or rellos – relatives
OTHER EXPRESSIONS
Uey – U-turn
Ute – tray-top truck
Sickie – sick day off work
Arvo – afternoon
Chrissie – Christmas
Maccas – McDonalds
It’s my shout – This is my round (at the bar), It’s my treat
She’ll be right – It’ll be OK
No worries – it’s OK, don’t worry about it, you’re welcome
At sparrow fart – really early
Cark it – break, die, burn out
ADJECTIVES
Bloody – to emphasis, it’s bloody hot, it’s bloody far
Daggy – an endearing way to say “not cool”, can also a noun (“My sister’s a real dag”)
Chockablock – really full
Heaps – lots of, a lot
Cactus – not working
Exxy – expensive
Agro – aggressive
Full on – intense




feedback
nombre@ejemplo.com

A quick guide to Australian English


The Australian accent is noticeably different from other "Englishes", and is full of slang terms. There are three main variations: broad (a thick, nasal accent with drawn-out vowel sounds), general (the way most Australians speak) and cultivated (associated with British pronunciation).

Aussies speak in a more relaxed manner, almost lazy. Imagine a long flat line and just keep your words on that line, you don't go up or down. The actress Rachel Griffiths says you should imagine your tongue lying on an exercise ball in your mouth.

There are six tendencies that can help you recognize Aussie English:

The 'r' at the end of a word is pronounced '–ah'. For example: car, river, together; are pronounced cah, rivah, togetha.

Australians add 'r's where they aren't. They add r's as connectors between words when one vowel sound follows another. For example: "Fiona is coming," would be "Fionariz coming".

Australian English slang terms are often made into diminutives (shortened) by adding –o or –ie. For example: arvo for afternoon, barbie for barbeque or servo for service station.

There is a tendency to end statements with a rising intonation. This sounds like Australians are always asking questions.

Some words with three syllables are squashed into two. Like lyebry (library) and batry (battery).

The 'o' sound is particularly elongated, almost like two syllables.

Patricia Duran from Colombia lives in Australia and she indicated that in the beginning, "It was pretty hard for me to understand even the most basic words. The accent is difficult, and there is a huge variety of slang words." Sebastián Suazo from Chile agrees, "Australian English is full of expressions and slang. The people also speak really quickly."

One of the problems foreigners encounter is that Australians do not change their speech nor slow down when speaking to them. If you find yourself in this situation, just hold up your hand and ask the person to please speak more slowly. Australians are very friendly people and most of them will be happy to comply.

 

Comprehension

Below you will find text comprehension questions. Read and listen to the text and answer the questions (we recommend you read first and then listen).

A quick guide to Australian English

Quiz

 

Grammar in Use

Below you will find PDF documents with the Grammar in Use.

Intermediate: Through vs Thorough

Advanced: Idiom: Bark at the wrong tree

Vocabulary

How to speak as an Aussie

Summary Vocabulary

Discover its sights, sounds, and tastes:

Travel and learn!

If you want to learn English TeaTime-Mag recommends: