My father was born and raised in Levin, New Zealand. My father’s accent and way with words is something I don’t notice anymore. However, it becomes evident when friends meet my dad for the first time and I see the surprised and perplexed look on their faces. Even though we’re all speaking the same language, my friends can obviously pick up on some major differences in the way we communicate.
I can recall a time when I was in my home with a friend and we were discussing an issue within our social group. My friend was describing her opinions on our other friend’s attitude and actions. My father walked past us and said “She’ll be right!” Naturally, I ignored my father, but I could see my friend felt quite uncomfortable. It turned out that my friend interpreted my father’s comment as him saying the other friend was right and she was wrong. However, I had to explain to my friend what he actually meant, that everything was going to be fine. Although the uncomfortable feeling from miscommunication only lasted a few seconds, it was a clear indication that speaking the same language does not guarantee understanding.
Although it wasn’t one of my main reasons for coming to Sydney, I was intrigued by the fact that I was already fluent in the language of the country. I knew it would make things much easier for me. I could recall some of the places I had travelled to in the past where I became ‘lost in translation’, struggling to get around without knowing the language of the land. Although this never negatively impacted my experiences in foreign places, I figured if I’m going to be in one place for multiple months, it would be better to know the language. What I didn’t really take into account, however, was the fact that I may know English, but I do not know ‘Strine’. Strine is a term used to describe a broad Australian accent. If you’ve ever seen the Crocodile Dundee movies, you would be familiar with a slightly exaggerated version of it (although, the further away you get from urban areas the closer it gets to that). If I was going to say the same sentence as someone who spoke with an Australian accent, we would use almost all the same words. However, the pronunciation, intonation, and keywords are often completely different. In many cases, it has felt like we were speaking a different language.
I’d compare my experience with communication in Sydney to a student studying in a place where the primary language was their second language. You can get the gist of what your acquaintance is saying, but sometimes can run into some bumps. When I speak to an Australian, I try not to make it seem like I’m not understanding or following what they say. An Australian friend said to me just the other day, “What would you do if he tuned you?” to which I replied “Haha I don’t know!” Truthfully, I had no idea what that meant, but didn’t want to surrender and admit I didn’t speak the lingo. Later, I realized ‘tune’ meant to hit on. Like my friends when speaking to my father, speaking the same language was not enough to understand. However, I know the only way to build understanding and communication is to continue my conversations with Australians. I truly believe I am learning more and more from my encounters with them every day.