Words by Hoa Pham, Study Melbourne Ambassador and Communication student at Deakin University.
So finally you’ve arrived in Australia! You’re excited to kickstart a new academic journey here, only to be greeted with a weird “G’day, scarn’on?”. This is the first of many language barriers you will face.
Good communication is a large part of your studying abroad experience. In this article I’m going to share some tips on improving your English and overcoming communication breakdowns in Australia.
Build your language skills
Surround yourself with a ‘language bubble’ every day
Your language skills must be used, like muscles. Let English be a part of every aspect of your life to understand, speak and write like a native speaker.
Learn with enjoyment
It’s hard to learn if you feel like you have to. The good news is you can incorporate English in your daily fun activities.
Sharpen each skill
Follow social media pages and news channels that use English. Change your social media and phone language. Take note of useful words, expressions or grammar as you read.
Write your notes, diary, social media posts, YouTube comments in English. Practice jotting down your thoughts and arguments. Keep a list of useful phrases and synonyms to draw from when needed.
Watch YouTube, social media videos and TV programs in English with subtitles. Turn on podcasts or songs while doing something else. Notice common expressions in spoken English.
Do you have pep talks or arguments in the shower? Why not do so in English? Try to imitate native speakers’ pronunciation while watching your favourite shows too.
Put it into practice
Get to know the local way of speaking
When I arrived, Australian English seemed like a whole new world to me. Shortened words, slang and a strong Aussie accent can easily trip up any newcomers.
Familiarising yourself with these can be loads of fun though! I consume Australian media like ABC TV’s Instagram videos, Australian meme pages and Australian YouTubers’ vlogs. This helps to start understanding the culture, humour and expressions. Cultural references actually happen a lot in daily conversation.
Fears dwindle with practice. The more you talk to locals, the more sensitive to the accent your ears will become. Before you know it, you’ll be saying “No worries”, “I reckon”, “Chuck it in”, “Good on ya” too!
Break the ice
When you want to strike up a conversation, a surefire approach is mentioning something general you both can comment on. For example, the weather, sports news or food at an event.
Then introduce yourself and find out about the other person. Depending on the situation, you may ask:
- how their day has been
- what plans they’re having for the weekend
- what course they’re doing
- how they find the class or networking event.
When you’re practicing your English, mistakes will happen. This is ok! It’s better to learn from mistakes in casual conversations now than to wait until future job interviews.
Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification or say that you don’t understand. More often than not the speaker will be happy to simplify what they’ve said. To make sure, confirm what you think you’ve heard.
When misunderstandings occur, you can calmly and politely explain what you were saying or what you think the speaker meant. Apologise for the confusion and show an attitude of learning.
Don’t give up
Breaking down language barriers is a long-term process. The key is letting the language sink into your mind. Enjoy navigating it, actively practice it and have a positive attitude.
It’s like looking at yourself in a mirror. You won’t notice any changes after a day but after a year you’ll have gone a long way from where you are today!