Communicating at Australian Universities – What to Expect

Queens College

So you’re headed for an Australian university.  Maybe you’ve passed the TOEFL or IELTS exams and will be taking degree classes, or maybe you’re going to study English. Either way, congratulations! Australia is a fantastic country with a world-class university system.

As you get ready for your adventure down under, remember that Australia is an island nation, quite a distance from other native English-speaking countries. Australian English is not the same as other types of native English. And beyond the language, Australia has its own unique culture of communication.

English in Australia is closer in sound to British English than to North American English. While North American English is “rhotic,” with strong “r” consonant sounds, Australian English is not rhotic. The “r” sound is generally dropped at the end of words, similar to the UK.

Australian vowels are also different from both British and North American English vowels. One of the most distinct differences is the sound of the long “A,” which Australians often pronounce more like a long “I.” So the name “Kate” in UK or U.S. English would sound more like the word “kite” in Australian English. But there are many other things that make Australian vowels unique. Australian English teacher Hal Hopper’s YouTube Channel can give you a good look at all of these differences.

When compared to other forms of native English, Australian vowels and Australian communication (in general) tend to be shorter. Australians like to speak in brief, direct sentences. Be ready to hear a LOT of Australian slang and abbreviations. For example, ‘breakfast’ is “brekkie’ and ‘barbeque’ is ‘barbie’.

Australian language is very direct and to-the-point, as is the culture. The very polite, indirect speech you sometimes hear in Great Britain and North America (especially Canada) is not used as much down under. Australians say what’s on their minds, and make statements that may seem rude to people from cultures that employ a less-direct approach. In fact, Australians regard directness as a sign of honesty and trustworthiness. Be ready to make lots of eye contact with Australians, regardless of their social status or authority, and prepare to give your honest opinion about things, especially when you are directly asked.

Above all, expect diversity.  Australia is a culturally mixed, open society. You won’t just meet Australians— you’ll meet people from all over the world, and find yourself learning about communication and customs from many cultures.

Cheers mate, and have fun in ‘Straya!


This post was written by David Recine, TOEFL and ESL expert at Magoosh. For advice on TOEFL preparation, check out Magoosh’s TOEFL blog.

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