Learning to Speak American

One thing I’ve had to work on, while teaching and while building a writing business, is how not to write and speak Australian. It sounds like a simple thing, but you’d be surprised by how many Australian phrases or spelling you use when you’re born in this country. I’m starting to think that Australians are creating their own language or something, that’s how bad it is. As an ESL teacher, I had to watch out for this. As a writer, who writes for a number of American clients, I still have to deal with it. And don’t even get me started on my British clients. Are we all really speaking the same language? I have my doubts.

Because it’s such a concern for me at the moment, and because I have to keep looking it up, I’ve created a cheat sheet of how non-American Australian English is. Apparently, US English is considered the easiest to understand, British has the most rules and conventions because they were influenced by the French language, and Australian English has a bias towards profanity, humour, informality and completely classlessness. Not surprising considering our mostly convict beginnings.

Heh. I knew I liked my country best.

Color or Colour? To me, it is and always will be ‘colour’. I’ve had to teach ‘color’ though, and every time it grates on my nerves. I’ve corrected exams and ticked ‘color’ as right when everything in me was screaming that it was incorrect. I’m pretty sure I remember getting in trouble for spelling the word the American way when I was in school. It was wrong, wrong, wrong. And so is ‘behavior’, ‘favorite’, ‘favor’ and all the other words that end with ‘our’ that Americans spell wrong. And I’m not even going to touch the ‘ize’ words.

Plurals in letters and in sentences

I have travelled, not traveled. When I concentrate, I am focussed, not focused. Australians like their double consonants. Oh, and ‘The couple are happy’ while ‘The crowd is happy’. We tend to go both ways on the collective noun thing.

Obvious phrases

Australians use a lot of phrases that people from other countries don’t understand. Here are some of the ones that I’ve learned to avoid when around people from other western countries who actually do understand English. Just not Australian English.

  • I’m chockers – I’m full
  • No worries – You’re welcome
  • I reckon – I think
  • Uni – College
  • Capsicum – Peppers
  • Eggplant – Aubergine
  • She was blind! – She was drunk
  • Ta – Thanks
  • I’m mucking around – I’m joking
  • I’m taking the piss – I’m mocking you
  • I’ll suss it out – I’ll sort it out

And more. I’m sure there are more, I just haven’t said them in front of these non-Aussies yet.

The Shorter the Better

We like to shorten words. This applies to names as well as to everything else that can sound good in a short form. That’s why ‘afternoon’ is ‘arvo’, ‘journo’ is ‘journalist and ‘aggro’ is ‘aggressive’. How it usually works? Use the first syllable correctly and then substitute an ‘y’, ‘o’, ‘a’ or ‘ie’ sound. This gives English a nice lyrical sound.

To Schwa or not to Schwa

The Schwa is a sound used in speech. In each word of more than one syllable, there is one syllable that we say more clearly and distinctly. In the other syllable, the schwa can change the actual sound of the vowel into more like an ‘uh’ sound. Try it. When you say ‘colour’, do you say ‘cul-oor?’ Or do you say ‘cul-uh’. I say the second one, but it turns out that not everyone does that. Using the schwa is a lazy way to talk, and it turns out that Australians are lazy talkers. We love the schwa, use it all the time, more than any other native English speaker I’ve ever encountered. And everyone else has trouble understanding us when we do use it.

The ‘f’ word

We also swear. A lot. In Australia, it’s not really seen as a bad thing. My ninety-year old grandma swears like a trooper. Politicians swear. It’s normal for us. It says that we’re all the same, there is no class system here, none of us are any better than the others. The ‘f’ word for instance is a great noun, verb, adjective and adverb and I don’t understand why more people don’t use it the way it deserves to be used. Oh, and if it offends you, I’m likely to use it more.

So that’s a little insight into Australian English. That’s what I’m fighting against when I’m teaching and writing in American. Just one more thing to think about.






2 thoughts on “Learning to Speak American

    • Hey, yeah it gave me a laugh while I was researching. I had too many American clients comment on the ‘Australianisms’ when I wasn’t aware that I was using any, and reading sites about the development and basis of the language cracked me up!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s