The Australian language is very colourful and, at times, very difficult for foreigners to understand (even for other native English speakers)! Whereas you can use Google Translate to communicate between one standard language and another, there doesn’t seem to be such a tool for defining what someone is saying if they’re using Australian slang. Sometimes, the words are the same but the meaning is completely different, even if both people are speaking English to each other.
For instance, if an Australian woman asks if you’d like to ‘nurse’ her baby, she’s asking if you’d like to hold the baby. If you were American, you might think she’s asking you to breastfeed her child! You can imagine the kinds of misunderstandings that occur and how outrageous they can often be!
So how can you study up on Australian slang and avoid being caught out by terms or words, if you’re not from this country?
There are some fabulous examples of movies that take great pride in showing off the unique use of Australian slang. The Castle is well known for some fantastic terms, such as: “Fair go”. This means to appeal for someone to treat you with greater fairness. It can also be lengthened with “fair crack of the whip” or “fair suck of the sauce bottle”. You see? How on earth can a non-Australian be expected to understand these weird sayings?
The great Aussie classic Crocodile Dundee exaggerates slang to make the script even funnier, but many viewers from abroad didn’t fully understand what was being said. Back then, the Internet didn’t exist and it’s only been more recently that people have been able to look up the terms and laugh all over again. In the movie, Mick Dundee refers to women as “sheilas” and uses the popular “dunny” when talking about a toilet. He also calls a bar a “boozer” and a “water hole”.
The long-running TV soap opera, Home and Away features Aussie slang, mostly through its character, Alf Stewart who commonly says things like: “Strewth!” (used to express dismay or surprise), “rack off” (go away) and “flamin’ mongrel” (an expression to show disdain for another person).
Even by watching some of the locally-made morning programs such as Today and Sunrise, you’ll pick up on common Australian slang terms.
More modern Australian slang comes from the determination to abbreviate words, but in a way that really sounds like it could only be from a laid-back country such as ours. Here are some examples:
People like Ricky Martin have had trouble deciphering Australian slang terms. Some other colourful sayings include “carrying on like a pork chop” - a term to describe when someone is having a tantrum or behaving foolishly. Just as obscure is “don’t come the raw prawn with me” which someone says when they feel they are being deceived.
Here are some examples of Australian slang that you might encounter in a normal day.
It can be very difficult when you arrive in a new country and think you have learned enough of the language to get by, and then the locals start to use words and terms that don’t appear in the dictionary.
People will usually use the language they are used to, and when they are in the company of a person from another country, they may not realise they’re not making sense. It’s important that if you don’t understand something, you ask the person to explain it to you because Australian slang can often mean the exact opposite.
The best thing to do is try and expose yourself to more Australian content such as Aussie TV shows, movies, books, newspapers and online material. In time, you will understand more and more but to be honest, even some younger Aussies don’t understand the old-style slang and older Aussies struggle to comprehend new colloquialisms. Enjoy the experience and before long, you’ll be using Australian slang yourself!