Australian English vs. American English vs. British English
When you’re learning English in a classroom, online or offline, it’s easy to forget that there’s not just one universal English. Even for native speakers, these different “Englishes” can be really confusing!
Take Australian English, for example. I’m originally from the United States and I moved to Australia over seven years ago. I remember when went to the drugstore for the first time to buy some shampoo. Well, first of all, when I checked Google Maps for “Drugstores”, there were no results. That’s when I found out that in Australia, they’re called chemists or pharmacies. So I found the nearest one, picked out my shampoo and took it to the register. The girl working there asked me about my day … or at least I thought she did! Even though we both spoke English, after being in Australia for only a day I couldn’t understand her accent or some of the words she was using!
Like a lot of native English speakers, I expected the differences between our versions of English to be small and easy to ignore, but it’s important for us — and for students — to remember that these differences can be challenging (and fun)!
The most obvious difference between Australian English, American English, and British English is in the accents or pronunciation. This difference is especially noticeable in vowel sounds. Check out Korean Billy’s excellent YouTube videos for great explanations (and demonstrations!) of the different accents.
The letter can also be very tricky! American English is famous for its clear /r/ sounds, whereas British or Australian English lose the /r/ sound if it’s at the end of a word or syllable. For example, the word “smarter” is pronounced /smɑrtər/ in American English, but /smɑːtə/ in British and Australian English.
In addition to the pronunciation of words, the intonation (the pitch of your voice) can be very different in different countries. For example, if a person asks a yes/no question in American English, their voice goes up at the end. But if a person asks that question in Australian English or British English, their voice would go down!
And it gets even more confusing when you remember that in each country, there are many different accents! There’s not just one “Australian English” pronunciation, there are several! For example, a person from Melbourne will sound slightly different to one from Cairns.
Vocabulary (especially slang)
The next difference you’ll probably notice is in vocabulary. Lots of everyday words are different in different English-speaking countries, like candy (USA), sweets (UK) and lollies (AU).
There are also huge differences in slang! Casual words like “sanga” may be perfectly clear in Australia, but no one in the USA would know that they’re talking about a sandwich! Check out these fun resources for more interesting slang differences:
Spelling is the next major difference between these different varieties of English. The good news is that here, there are only two spelling systems, not three! The UK and Australia share the same spelling, while the United States decided to create their own spelling system. (We’ve always been a little rebellious…) Here are some examples:
Probably the least noticeable difference between American English, Australian English and British English is grammar. There are only a few small examples, like collective nouns or past tenses.
One other difference is the use of the Present Perfect (for example, I have eaten dinner already). This is much more common in Australian English and British English. In the United States, people will use the past simple more often — they would say, “I ate dinner already.”
Sometimes the differences between Australian English, American English and British English can be frustrating and difficult. But you should remember that overall, these three varieties of English are more similar than different, and the little differences are what give a language its unique “flavor”!