Fair Dinkum! For international students and immigrants, Aussie slang takes a decade to learn

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
Understanding Aussie slang can be confusing to international students - a barrier that can get in the way of feeling 'at home'.
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New research shows just how foreign Aussie culture is to migrants – and for international students taking on university degrees in their non-native language, feeling comfortable enough with uniquely Australian English to communicate clearly can be especially challenging.

Over 1,000 immigrants shared their unique experiences of assimilating to Australia, with interesting data revealed in new research commissioned via Ria Money Transfer, a financial services brand that services the needs of international students by managing secure global money transfers.

Responses from expats included their take on culture shock and local customs, as well as their willingness to try Aussie snacks.

With more than a quarter of Australia’s population born overseas, the findings of the research reflect the powerful cultural exchange occurring within Australia – and also reveal interesting insights into the enrichment the international-born population provides to Australia’s own increasingly multicultural landscape.

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Part of this exchange is through the sharing of resources and remittances, with one-third of immigrants sending money overseas an average of 14 times a year. 

The findings from the survey reveal that expats who have settled down under in more recent years cite cost-of-living to be a greater culture shock than the language, suggesting both an increase in globalism and the serious economic change our country is facing. 

Other interesting findings, broken down by state, nationality, generation, and gender, include:

  • Over 90 per cent of expats who have lived in Australia for over 10 years know an average of five-six slang terms
  • In their first year of living in Australia, 88 per cent of expats will experience a local custom, like trying a Tim Tam or attending an AFL match. 
  • 14 per cent of Gen Z immigrants send more than half of their wages to family overseas, despite cost-of-living pressures
  • More female expats (73 per cent) will try Vegemite compared to male expats (66 per cent)
  • Settlers in Queensland pick up Australian slang more effectively than in other states
  • Expats from Africa pick up slang quicker than those from Asian and South American countries (fair dinkum, woop woop, goon, devo, durry, dunny, etc.)
  • Two-thirds of expats say cost of living concerns have impacted their ability to send money home
  • Almost half of remittances are to support family with living expenses, followed closely by remittances serving as gifts

Overcoming culture shock

Simon Wilding, Country Manager Australia and New Zealand of Ria Money Transfer, says the survey exposes the voices of the nation, even if they weren’t born here. 

“While it was a surprise to see from these results that our unique Australianisms cause massive culture shock, unfortunately it’s not a surprise to hear that the cost-of-living crisis we’re all facing in this country is confronting to migrants. 

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“Our expats and immigrants help bring dimension, life, and strength to our multicultural population. As the leading global money transfer operator, we are so pleased to serve communities from all around Australia so their home away from home can be one that not only serves them, but their families back in their country of origin.

“Australia is one of the most diverse countries in the world, which makes remittances and money transfers a staple tool for Aussies to support extended families across the world financially.”

Clarissa Tan says sending money to friends and family forms a crucial part of keeping their connection alive.
“I love living in Australia, where my personal and professional life has flourished,” she says.

“I miss home but being able to send a bit of money here and there to support and treat my loved ones helps fill the void, not because we’re money-focused people, but because it’s straightforward and effective. It cuts out the concerns of postage and exchange rates – leaving me able to both say to and show my family that I love them.”

Mr Wilding told EducationDaily the cost-of-living crisis is currently one of the biggest challenges currently facing international students visiting Australia – especially for those international students who are working while studying in order to sustain themselves here in Australia. Sending money back home to loved ones – often seen as a cultural responsibility – can add to that pressure.

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“On the other end of that spectrum, we also see quite a few remittances from overseas families to international students here to help them pay bills while they focus on studying – and given how expensive groceries and household essentials are currently, it must be very tough on our migrant communities,” he says.

When it comes to dealing with Aussie slang, Mr Wilding told EducationDaily that uncertainty around this aspect of our language could “affect a non-English speaker’s confidence in striking up conversation with locals and fostering relationships” that “may lead to misinterpretations or awkward interactions”. 

With the study showing it can take as much as ten years to truly feel comfortable with our unique Australian English, Mr Wilding says there are proactive ways international students can help familiarise themselves with the nuances of Australian language and culture.

“It’s a great idea to get involved in cultural events, join local hobby clubs, and participate in campus activities,” he says.

“Even local students love these experiences because it helps them form their own memories and get a sense of home away from home. Cultural events like Easter, Anzac Day, or even Christmas in July are some classic Australian holidays that give the opportunity to connect with others and cultivate a sense of belonging.”

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live