RSS Feed

American living in Australia, Pretending to be Bilingual

At our favourite wildlife sanctuarly... or shall I say 'favorite'?

Kissing a kangaroo…. At our favourite wildlife sanctuarly… or shall I say ‘favorite’?

Since moving to Australia, I have gotten a job at a high school teaching students. Prior to getting the job, one of my Australian friends was able to tell me about the working with childrens check that teachers have to do to ensure they’re safe to look after children and young adults. I was able to get the job, and now I’m enjoying being a teacher at a lovely school. The initial moving stage was interesting, I can’t lie. After bringing my belongings half way across the world, I did find that a lot of my things ended up being damaged or scuffed. I spent a while looking for skip bins for hire sydney way to dispose of it all so I could start again. That’s another story though. Now I’m here and settled and truly loving my job. However, my biggest Aussie language blunder EVER… Do you want to know it? I was doing my student teaching at some high school and we were going on an excursion (American, field trip). We had some tickets to carry around and they put me in charge of keeping track of them. Here was the conversation that happened in a staff room full of about 15 people:

Me: “Do we have anything to carry these around in?

Staff Member: “Sure Kate, what are you after?

Me: “Oh, I don’t know… maybe one of those fanny packs?

Staff Memeber + 14 other staff members present: Hysterically laughing, “A what?!?!

Me: ‘A…. fanny pack…?” I said slowly…

More hysterical laughing… until someone kindly explained to me that what I was looking for was a ‘bum bag‘…. (bum, as in your butt). Because fanny is referring to the female genitalias. Doh!!!

Another moment I will never forget. A good friend of mine was visiting me after my older daughter had been born.

Friend: “Is it alright if I have a little nurse?

Me: Severe look of confusion and inner voice saying, “WTF?! Nurse my baby?!” (Ok, now I’m a bit more open minded than I was then. Now, I probably would say, “Sure, no problem, mind if I go take a shower while you do that?

She saw the look on my face and laughed and explained to me that a nurse is a cuddle…

My husband and I struggled for at least a year after moving here to try and understand people. I clearly remember wondering why I could not understand what people were saying… I had traveled the world and never had trouble understanding people from anywhere… until I moved here. They were speaking English, right?! We liked to describe the way Australians talk as the ‘Aussie mumble‘. Aussies love to talk quiet and mumble… very opposite to us LOUD and verbose Americans (whom I can now, often see and hear, coming a mile away, or shall I say a kilometre away). Aussies love to abbreviate and shorten their words and use acronyms. Instead of saying afternoon, they say arvo. Sunglasses are sunnies, bikkies are biscuits, trackies are track pants… it goes on and on. Now I know what they mean when they say that learning “Business English” is not the same as just learning “English”. There are so many ways to say things and jargon that you have to pick up when it’s topic specific.

My blog readers come from all over the world. About half are from America, another quarter are from Australia and the UK and the rest are from all over the world. I cannot tell you the number of times I have to actively think about which words to use to make my posts universally friendly and to not sound painfully American. I often write them in ‘American‘, although, I actually mostly think in ‘Australian‘ now. Depending on who I’m talking to, I have to translate in my head. It’s not that the Aussies won’t understand me if I use American terms… they hear everything American on TV and through the internet. It’s actually that I have to translate BACK into American because I’ve grown so accustom to saying and spelling things the Australian way when I was a school teacher here.

Here is my list of annoying words that I have to translate on a regular basis when writing my blogs, when talking to friends and talking to my children. I know… I’m hardly close to bilingual. But, I like to pretend I am. There are a plethora of other confusing variations in words. But, these are the main offenders.

Annoying Parenting Related terms
Aussie USA
mum mom
bub, bubby baby
cot/port-a-cot crib/port-a-crib
have a nurse have a cuddle
pram stroller
nappy diaper
dummy pacifier
singlet tank top
pilcher water proof diaper cover
kindy (short for
or daycare
school, refers to grade school ONLY school refers to grade school, and almost all higher education
college a type of high school
uni university or college
Words ending in -ise vs. -ize
Aussie USA
realise realize
visualise visualize
utilise utilize
finalise finalize
organise organize
Food Terminology
Aussie USA
capsicum bell pepper
coriander cilantro
rock melon cantaloupe
jam jelly
jelly jell-o
pronouncing tomato as ‘to-maaah-to’ pronouncing tomato as to-mayyy-to’
pronouncing banana as ‘ban-aaaah-na’ pronouncing banana as ‘ba-neh-na’
All non-English words, like fillet and fajita
are completely butchered and pronounced
exactly as they are spelled. The, Mitsubishi Pajero,
is a common car in Australia. Pajero means
wanker in Spanish.
Non-English words are pronounced as
they almost naturally occur in their native language.
There are too many Spanish speaking people in America
for any car to be called Pajero.

These are all just a few. There’s also color/colour, flavor/flavour. Lollies are candy. Whipper snippers are weed whackers, and so on. My most recent discovery was these terms don’t exist in Australia: ‘crunchy‘, ‘scrunchy‘, ‘silky‘ and ‘chunky‘, relating to a person’s style, in other words how much they are either like a hippie or how much they are mainstream.

I know. I know. Some people learn entire languages other than their native ones. And, here I am talking about some small differences. Well, I can pretend to be cool, right? Are you really bilingual? Do you ever get confused talking to someone, even if they’re native language is the same as yours?

Find Katesurfs on Facebook

(Please feel free to tell me about any typos. Late night blogging=almost certain mistakes).

13 Responses »

Share Your Thoughts