Doing Business in Australia: A Case for English-English Translation
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Doing Business in Australia: A Case for English-English Translation

Australia represents one of the largest markets in the world, currently in 13th place with a GDP of $1.13 trillion (USD). Enjoying a booming economy, with 24 million inhabitants who enjoy the second-highest median wealth per adult in the world, Australia can offer immense opportunity for businesses seeking to expand.

And yet, it is important to understand that Australian society is marked by a highly individualistic version of the English language. For this reason, businesses trying to establish a foothold in the Aussie market should consider localization into Australian English, for everything from their branding to voiceovers. While Australians will understand any English dialect, sometimes only their own will do. Any effective foray into the Aussie market should take into account the many differences and nuances that Australian English has in order to remain relatable to the local population.

History of Australian English

Australian English developed into a distinct dialect largely due to the history of Australian settlement by Westerners as well as its geographical isolation from other English-speaking societies. Beginning in the 18th century, the continent was used by the British mainly as a penal colony in which convicts, alongside ever-increasing numbers of free settlers, quickly developed a new variant of English with its own unique phonology and vocabulary. Australian English turned even more individualized when it became subject to American influences, starting with the influx of Americans during the Australian gold rushes of 1851 on, and later with the large-scale presence of American military personnel during World War II.

Australian English today

Australian English today represents a highly idiomatic variety of the English language, full of its own colorful expressions and unique vocabulary. These differences can be broken down into grammatical, lexical and phonological differences as follows.

Grammatical differences

Though not terribly many, there are some grammatical features of Australian English that differ from its North American or British counterparts. For instance, Australian English sides with the Brits in using the -ise rather than the -ize suffix to turn nouns and adjectives into verbs (e.g. standardise and not standardize). Another interesting feature of Australian English is its common use of gendered pronouns to refer to non-human nouns. Generally, him is used for flora and fauna (e.g., “That eucalyptus is beautiful. Just look at him.”) while her is used for food and drink (e.g. “The lasagna is ready. I just took her out of the oven.”)

Lexical differences

This is where there are the most extensive differences between Australian English and other English language varieties. For one thing, as with grammar, there is a mixture of British and American influences, so Aussies will side with the British on aluminium rather than aluminum, petrol for gasoline and bonnet instead of hood, but prefer American words like truck over lorry, pants over trousers and fries instead of chips.

Things get really interesting with Australianisms, or those colloquialisms unique to Australian English. A handful of these are well-known even to non-Australians, such as outback to refer to the Australian wilderness or barbie for barbecue. However, there are a vast number of words and sayings commonly used in Australia that are more than likely to be entirely foreign to non-natives. Some examples include dog’s breakfast to describe a mess or complicated situation, bludger for a lazy person and biro to refer to a ballpoint pen.

Many of these day-to-day colloquialisms can be critical to ensuring relatability when marketing in Australia, or even in effective business communication with Australian partners. This is even true for industry-specific lingo, where localization needs will obviously depend on the sector. For instance, in terms of fashion, Australians use the word thongs to refer to what Americans call flip flops, jocks for men’s pants, grundies for underwear and cozzie for swimsuit. In the automobile sector, Australians tend to call the steering wheel a tiller, whereas a Ford vehicle might be called simply a Henry. In the world of food service, while many of us by now may have heard of or even tried a flat white (the Australian take on the latte), non-Aussies are less likely to know that lolly water is lemonade, champers champagne and Adam’s ale good old drinking water.

Lastly, even the most common words and sayings can be jarringly different in Australian English, further supporting the argument in favor of localization. Many of us know that Australians use the greeting G’day, but it may come as a surprise that they are likely to ask, How are you going?” rather than “How is it going?” or “How are you doing?” We likewise may be unaware that arvo means afternoon or that fair dinkum is a common Australian expression used to express confirmation, confirm accuracy or denote authenticity, as in, “Come to Bondi for a fair dinkum beach holiday.”

Phonological differences

Anyone who has ever heard an Australian speak will undoubtedly have noticed that they have a unique accent and pronunciation style. This includes features such as diphthongized long i vowels and short a vowels that sound more like a short e, as well as the omission of final g’s in words ending in -ing (Look who’s talkin’) and of post-vocalic r’s (Take it from the sta’t).

 

In conclusion, the Australian market is large and robust enough to be considered in any business’s global expansion plan, and its particular brand of English is distinct enough to merit localizing content like websites, marketing materials, service and user materials, product reviews and descriptions and videos to ensure success. It’s essential to factor in the many linguistic features unique to Australian English speakers in general as well as those relevant to your company’s sector. You’d be equally wise to consider adapting your branding and product names in such a way as to be relatable to local sensitivities.

 

Is your business eyeing the Land Down Under as a potential target for expanded operations? If so, you can reach out to us: we would be happy to cut through the linguistic dog’s breakfast of localizing your content and provide you with the fair dinkum Australian English you need to successfully tap the Aussie market.

 

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