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English language resources

Australian conversational English

The way we talk to others when we are in conversation is often influenced by the social setting we are in, such as formal or informal, professional or personal, or different age or gender groups. 

This can affect the words we use, our tone of voice and the way we put sentences together.  

For example, a person might use more formal language when speaking to a lecturer or employer. 

Formal register: Could you give me some advice on...?

We use more informal language when speaking to friends or family.

Informal register: D’you know what we're s’posed to be doin’ for the assignment?

Notice that in informal spoken English:
•    the language is more direct (“D’you know …” instead of “Could you give me …” )
•    some of parts of words are cut or shortened (“D’you” instead of “Do you know” and “s’posed” instead of “supposed”).

Look at the following short conversations. Note the difference in style between formal and informal language.

Formal Informal
“How are you?” 
“I am well, thank you.”

"How are ya?"
"Yeah, good thanks."

"How are you?"
"I am well, thank you."

“How’s it going?” 
“Not bad. How about you?”
“What have you been up to?” 
“Not much.”
“Whatch'ya been up to?” 
“Nothin’ much.”
“I am going to the shops. Is there anything I can get for you?”
“No I am fine. Thank you for asking.”
"Want anything from the shops?"
"Nah thanks, I'm good."
“How was your weekend?”
“It was busy as I was trying to get the assignment finished.”
“How was your weekend?”
“Busy! I was flat out trying to get the assignment done.”

"What time is it, please?"
"It is half-past four."

“Got the time?”
“Yep, four thirty.”
“Excuse me. Could you give me directions to Fisherman’s Boat Wharf?”
“Yes, of course. Let me show you the map on my phone.”
“Excuse me. Do you know where Fisherman’s Boat Wharf is?”
“Yeah. It's here on the map."
"Do you need more references for you essay?"
"No, thank you. I have already included sufficient supporting references."
“D’you need to get any more references for your essay?”
“Nah! I’ve got heaps of them already.”
“How long have you been in Australia?”
“I have been in Australia for almost six months.” 

"Ya been here long?"
"About six months."


Australian informal speech: friendly or nasty?

The way we speak to others can also be affected by cultural factors. 
Australians, for example, tend to feel more comfortable with people who are able to make fun of themselves and each other, and use humour as a way to create a bond.  
Sometimes the Australian sense of humour can seem offensive to people from other cultures. But as the “Insider Guide: International Student Resources” (2020) notes, it’s worth considering it from the Australian cultural perspective:

Australians might make fun of someone’s bad habits, like being late or being messy, they might even play a few practical jokes on really good friends. It’s all a part of building rapport and showing trust. In some ways, being comfortable enough with someone to make a joke at their expense is, in itself, a signal of mutual respect, equality and closeness. 

Insider Guide: International Student Resources. (2020) 

Look at this example:

Australian humour: Nice haircut! Did ya get run over by a lawnmower?

Suggesting that his friend has had his hair cut by a lawnmower (a machine used to cut the grass) is, of course, a joke, meaning it is an awful haircut. This may seem like a nasty thing to say, because his friend may feel bad. But, in fact, his friend probably just laughs and feels ok. This is because in Australia, saying things that seem nasty can be a way of showing that you have a good relationship; it all depends on the relationship, the situation, and the way you say it.


Insider Guide: International Student Resources. (2020) A beginner’s guide to Aussie humour.

Sarcasm: Saying the opposite to what you mean

Notice in the joke above, he starts by saying “Nice haircut!” rather than “Awful haircut!”. Saying the opposite to what you really mean is called sarcasm and is frequently used to make friendly jokes in Australia. Again it all depends of the tone of voice!
Other examples of sarcasm (saying the opposite to what we mean):
“Well, that went really well!” when something went really badly. 
Or “Great job, mate!” when someone really messes up.  
The unspoken rules of sarcasm:

It’s important to remember that this use of opposite meanings is usually used as a friendly joke not an insult.

  • Sometimes, however, it can unkind and a not-so-subtle form of bullying. 
  • Care should be taken when using sarcasm e.g. you probably shouldn’t use sarcasm when meeting someone for the first time.  
  • Don’t use sarcasm continuously. 
  • Normally, you would only use sarcasm with people you know well.


“How was work?”
“Fantastic! Working at McDonalds is my dream come true!”

 “What do think of the government’s decision to ramp up coal mining over the next 10 years?”
“Nah, yeah, it’s good isn’t it! Who needs a planet anyway?”

“So tax is 30 percent?  That means 30 dollars out of every hundred?”
“Oh my God! You are so great at maths!

 “I need you to work an extra shift, this evening?”
“Awesome! Not like I don’t already work five days a week.”

“Remember, we’ve got nanna’s birthday thing, tonight.”
“Oh yeah. Can’t wait.”

 “Can you help me with these paragraphs as well?”
“Look, why don’t I just write the whole thing for you?”

“I mixed up the rooms, yesterday, and sat the wrong exam.”
“Well done, genius!”

Not showing off

Australians don’t like to “show off” or seem proud. They don’t usually talk about how successful they are and if a friend or colleague compliments them on something they have done (and means it i.e. not sarcasm), they often answer by saying that it was really nothing.

“Mate, what you’ve done here is really amazing!” “Nah! It’s nothing much really!”

“Mate, what you’ve done here is really amazing!”
“Nah! It’s nothing much really!”


In these three short conversations someone compliments their friend. Each compliment has three responses. Notice that the one in bold is a typical Australian response that plays down the success or achievement.

“You’re pretty amazing at computer games! I haven’t seen you lose yet!”
a)    “Yeah, I put in a lot of practice to get this good.
b)    “Nah; I just smash the keys and hope for the best!”
c)    “Thanks, mate!”

“Amazing drive, mate! Straight down the middle!”
a)    Thanks, that was pretty good!
b)    Best stroke of the day!
c)    Yeah. Just don’t ask me to do it again!

“You must be pretty intelligent to have graduated with a medical degree?”
a)    Nah, anyone can do it. You’ve just gotta be willing to be broke for 5 years. 
b)    I did get over 97% in my ATAR exams.
c)    I worked hard. But I guess you need brains as well.

Look at how these questions might be responded to. This is a peculiarity of English used by some Australians that can take a while to get the hang of.

  1. “Whad’ya think of the band, last night?”
    Nah, yeah, they were good!” (positive)
  2. “Are you coming to the footy, tomorrow?”
    Yeah, nah, I’ve got to study for Monday’s exam.” (negative)
  3. “How ya doing, today?’
    Yeah, nah good.” (positive)

When Australian friends meet each other they typically use informal greetings. For example when meeting a friend a normal greeting might be one of the following: “How ya goin’?” or “G’day” Or “How ya been?” or “How’s it goin’?” 
When asking for news about a friend’s weekend an Australian might say something that sounds like, “Wadjadoontheweegend?“ meaning “What did you do on the weekend?”