Embracing Australian Language Shock

Author: Ryan Becker

After sleeping for most of my first two days in Australia, I attended my first orientation meeting and the conductor of the seminar said: Don’t think of everything we do here as backwards, wrong or bad, think of it as something different and embrace the change while you’re here.

This stuck with me while I was abroad. From driving on the left, light switches switching down, toilet water rotating the other way, seasons being at opposite times of the year, all the way to accent and lingo. I figured studying abroad in Australia that language wouldn’t be a big barrier to my cultural adjustment, boy was I wrong.

My first few encounters in Australia sounded something like this:

“Gday mate, how are you going? Wanna go to the footy this arvo and bring a coupla tinnies or goon in the esky, I reckon we can pick up some snags from woolies and throw em on the barbie in our bathers or go to maccas in the UTE and listen to accadacca on the way.”

After reading that you might have almost no clue as to what was said, just as I didn’t understand it when I first arrived.

In a more Canadian English dialect, it would translate to:

“Hey pal, how are you? Would you like to go to the rugby match this afternoon and bring a few drinks in the cooler. We could get some hot dogs from the store and cook them on the barbecue, or maybe go to McDonald's in the car and listen to some ACDC.”

Hanging out with my Australian friends, they’d be talking about sports or Vegemite or perhaps baby kangaroos. I would be turning my head back and forth just listening, trying to distinguish what they were saying. They would look at me and say, “Hey, you’ve been quiet, what’s up?”
I’d say, “I can’t tell what language you’re speaking, all I know is it’s not English.

I spent my first few weeks in “Straya” learning how to shorten every word in the dictionary and how to understand the various Aussie accents I was surrounded by. I felt lost whenever my roommates talked about sports or in large group conversations as I couldn’t grasp any of the lingo they were using. As time went on, I began to understand what was being said and I was able to contribute to conversations. This immersion in the culture was the ultimate way of learning and embracing it all and something I’m glad I did.

Just like so many people around the world, I always admired Aussie accents and wished I had one. By the end of my exchange in Melbourne I was the proud new owner of a very faint but distinguishable Aussie accent.

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