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Australians visiting the USA - the language barrier

Updated on June 27, 2012


There’s no two questions about it – even though we technically speak the same language (that being English), Australians and Americans definitely speak varied dialects. And it can get confusing, especially when trying to communicate with the locals. Here are some tips to help you out (Australian word first…)

GREETINGS

How’s it going? = How are you doing?

FOOD

Lollies = Candy

Entrée = Appetizer

Main Meal = Entrée

Whole meal/brown (bread) = Whole wheat

Flat White = Café Au Lait (although good luck getting one – they’ll probably just make you a latte)

Long Black = Americano

Chips = French Fries

Iceblock = Popsicle

Jam = Jelly

Lemonade = Sprite

Restaurant bill = Restaurant Check

*You’ll often get asked how you would like your hamburger cooked. Don’t be alarmed; Americans seem to like their burgers medium/medium-rare. Don’t be afraid to ask for yours well-done!

CLOTHING

Thongs = Flip Flops or Sandals or Slippers

TRANSPORT

Boot/Bonnet/Windscreen (of the car) = Trunk/Hood/Windshield

Footpath = Sidewalk

Petrol = Gas

Ute = Pick up truck

Lift = Elevator


Another thing to remember is that although Aussies have a tendency to shorten pretty much everything, Americans just don’t get it. So think a little before you start saying words like “brekky” (breakfast), “sunnies” (sunglasses) and “boardies” (board shorts)!

Simply put, just think about what you're saying and if you are commonly greeted by blank stares or even laughter, stop, think about what you said and think of a suitable alternative!

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      Milli Thornton 5 years ago

      This article was a trip down memory lane! When I arrived in the States in 1997 nobody could understand my thick accent. Ordering food in restaurants was always a challenge because of the accent. I tried ordering a flat white in McDonald's and they thought I was completely nuts. ;~)

      Even all these years later, I forget that Americans have a much different connotation for the innocent word "thongs." And I still get confused between windscreen/windshield and life guard/life saver. I always forget which way to say it is Australian and which way is American. I've been away too long. :~(

      I've taught my American husband some Aussie and he now says "brekky," "barbie," "prawns," "galah" and "howyagoinmate." He would love to win big bikkies in the Lotto. ;~)

    • debbiepinkston profile image

      Debbie Pinkston 5 years ago from Pereira, Colombia and NW Arkansas

      Ali, I completely understand what you mean. When I lived in Venezuela I had various friends come to visit and volunteer helping with our work. One summer we had "Don", our Tenneessee friend and we also hosted "Daniel", a young man from Trinidad. We never thought about the fact that although they both speak English, they wouldn't be able to communicate with each other. I had to serve as interpreter for any conversation that took place between them!

    • Ali Dawson profile image
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      Ali Dawson 5 years ago from Honolulu, HI

      I've convinced my boyfriend to say some Aussie words too, but he thinks it's funny to take it a step further and ask "well, if it's brekky, does that means it's lunchy and dinny too?"!

    • profile image

      Milli Thornton 5 years ago

      That's funny about lunchy and dinny! Sounds like something my husband would come up with. Ever since he heard an Aussie friend say "Whatareya?" he now says that as his greeting whenever he calls me on my cell phone/mobile.

      I moved from the States to Australia when I was 12 and had the opposite problem. This was way back in 1972 and everyone in the small town we moved to loved the Yank accent. (There wasn't as much American television back then.) My school mates wanted me to constantly say "car" and "marriage" so they could hear my rrr's. But all I wanted to do was sound like an Aussie so I could fit in!

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 5 years ago from Illinois

      Ali, I recognized many of the phrases - the car stuff, lift, chips. And anyone who's seen an Outback Steakhouse commercial knows what a "barbie" is. But I did have to laugh at a couple of the others - brekky, the confusion with thongs (yes, it does have a totally different connotation in the US!)

      My dad almost moved us to Australia back in the 60s when your govt was encouraging people to immigrate. If we had moved, who knows, you probably wouldn't have to teach your boyfriend some of your words ;)

      Language is fascinating with dialects and variations. It's amazing that people speaking the same language can still not communicate.

    • Ali Dawson profile image
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      Ali Dawson 5 years ago from Honolulu, HI

      Your son is definitely learning how we Aussies do and say things, but it feels like every day we come across yet another language disconnect!

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      richard g 5 years ago

      This is an important one if you have kids.

      Chips (Aus) = French fries (US) - but usually AUS chips are the fat british type

      but

      Chips (US) = Potato crisps (AUS) - you know Lays etc - the stuff you buy in packets from vending machines.

      So if you go to a US restaurant and you see that it comes with Chips then be prepared to be get a bunch of thin crunchy stuff out of a packet. And yes, American restaurants do that!

      Lastly Rubber (AUS) = Eraser (US)

      Rubber (US) = Condom (AUS). This one can get awkward under certain circumstances

    • Ali Dawson profile image
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      Ali Dawson 5 years ago from Honolulu, HI

      Richard it's funny, because I lived in the UK for 2 years and I learned very quickly that potato chips (in a bag) were 'crisps' to them. And I knew coming to the US that what Aussies call 'hot chips' are French Fried to the Americans, but I never expected to see potato chips with a sandwich! I've never heard an Aussie call potato chips "potato crisps" so it was one of the few times I've been caught out!

      Oh and I love messing with the Americans about "rubber". It's like "pants" in the UK - pants to them are "underpants", so saying "I like the pants your wearing, where did you get them?" always got a few interesting looks in London!

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