English may be the lingua franca of the world but when communicating internationally, it is important to note the right English. Although the similarities are vast, so are the variations. If you think of the many wonderfully colourful accents and jargon that grace the UK alone, the singsong patois of the Geordies in Newcastle, the rhythmic tones of London’s rhyming cockney slang and the sweet lullaby tones of the Gloucestershire environs, then envision the wider picture of English across the globe to the far off shores of the U.S. and the Down Under borders of New Zealand and Australia. What might mean one thing in one country, can have the complete opposite, and sometimes comical meaning in another!
What started off as the same English, many centuries ago, has now evolved into a colourful rainbow of diversity, like a caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly, through varying cultural influences, which have shaped English into the worldwide and distinct language it is today. Focusing on English spoken internationally by Kiwis, Aussies and Americans, there are a whole array of colloquialisms; slang, dialects and even body language that make each of these three nation’s languages stand out from the crowd. Pages and pages could be filled with the endless list of different phrases and words that cross these cultural borders, but for now you will find just a taster below of the incredible diversity of English found in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand: –
Imagine you were on a trip to the States and you were unfortunate enough to have something stolen whilst you were there and therefore had to make a statement. There are certain words that might require adapting to the local lingo to make sure your account is accurate in American terms. For instance, if you had your camera stolen from your rucksack, which was in the boot of your car, the narrative would serve better in U.S. English, whereby your knapsack was taken from the trunk of your car. Likewise, if you told the police that a mugger ran off with your bumbag containing a pair of pants, they might firstly look at you curiously, because this term is known as a fanny pack in America and secondly, they might question how you could even fit a pair of jeans in such a small bag, as pants are known as trousers in the U.S.! Not to mention the particulars of asking for directions, that could also bring quizzical looks. Asking someone if they could point you in the right direction of the ‘lifts’ to reach the ‘first floor’ could be answered with an incomprehensible shrug, as ‘elevator’ and ‘ground floor’ are the correct American idioms. What’s more, if you were looking to buy some property in the States, be sure to ask for a ‘realtor’ and not an ‘estate agent’ and don’t be asking where you can find the ‘toilet’ as this is considered impolite in American company. They refer to ‘the toilet’ as a ‘restroom’, ‘ladies room’ or ‘men’s room’ out in public and ‘bathroom’ in someone’s house.
The list of Americanisms is endless and these are just a mere handful. The amount of different terms used is really quite phenomenal once you get started! And that’s just vocabulary! Don’t forget that the spelling of certain words removes the all too familiar letter ‘u’ that the UK English are accustomed to, such as ‘colour’ becomes ‘color’ and ‘flavour’ changes to ‘flavor’. Similarly, some words change the ‘s’ to a ‘z’, e.g. ‘localisation’ converts to ‘localization’.
New Zealand and Australia
You’re a flip-flop manufacturer and you want to market your brand Down Under. So, what do you do if you don’t want your marketing approach to fall flat on its face at the first step? You make sure you localise the term to your target country. To entice your Kiwi audience you would need to extol the virtues of your ‘jandals’, whilst attracting an Aussie crowd, your flip-flops would need to turn into ‘thongs’ … and that is not the knicker variety! You’ve made the marketing move and international investment and now you decide to move to these antipodean distant shores.
You’ve got your accommodation sorted in New Zealand, but now you need a car to get you from A to B, so you ask a local if they can put you in touch with someone selling an old ‘banger’. In this instance, you might get an amusing look, as they would be curious as to why you would need an old ‘sausage’ to get you from place to place! And if a Kiwi asks you if you can go to the ‘Dairy’ for them, don’t be heading to a farm to bring them back a cow or goat, this is otherwise known as a ‘Corner shop’ in the UK!
Or perhaps, Australia has lured you to its sunny terrain and you are looking to get acquainted with the social scene. Your friend takes you out on the town and advises you to avoid all the annoying ‘spruikers’. No this is not Double Dutch, but a suggestion that if you don’t want to get charmed into every restaurant and nightclub, that you ignore the cajoling chat from these people trying to persuade you into their establishments.
You’ve settled into life Down Under and a friend or colleague asks you to a ‘barbie’. This is not asking you round to play with the doll that little girls have a penchant for, but to ask you to a BBQ. This being the case, you will be expected to bring some booze, but don’t be asking where the nearest off-licence can be found, your question could be met with raised eyebrows, as this alcoholic establishment is referred to as a ‘bottle shop’. In the same way as in the U.S., if you expect to be served a hot version when asking for ‘chips’ in New Zealand and Australia, then think again. The cold crunchy potato snack in a bag that the UK call ‘crisps’ is known as ‘chips’ in these three countries.
In other words, just because English is spoken doesn’t mean that every word corresponds. Basically, if you want to sound like a local and you want your international communication to be effective, then it would be more than advisable to embrace the nation’s language! Just as you would learn a foreign language, become versed in Aussie, Kiwi and American English if you wish to understand and be understood in Australia, New Zealand and the U.S.!
By Madeline Prusmann, Project Manager, July 2017