Spending time studying abroad is a great opportunity to improve your language skills, make friends and have fun all at once. To do this, you must be able to chat comfortably with your peers, which is why learning how to talk to Australians is an important skill to master.
To get some firsthand insights into learning English as a second language, we chatted to RMIT Training student Ryan (Yize) Nie. Originally from China, Ryan has lived in Australia since starting year nine at a Melbourne high school in 2016. When Ryan first moved to Australia, he knew very little about the country, culture or people. While developing his English language skills, he quickly found that interacting with others was the best way to learn.
Below, we list some of the best Aussie conversation starters and English language tips that will help you improve your skills and increase your confidence.
Three good conversation starters
Now that you know it’s important to learn how to speak to Australians, you might be wondering – how do Australians talk to each other? According to Ryan, most Aussies are “up for a chat” about almost anything, meaning you can explore a wide range of topics. Of course, when approaching someone new, it helps to have a few good conversation starters up your sleeve:
“How did you do on the recent assignment?”
If you share a class with someone, this can be an excellent question to start a new conversation. You’ll be able to talk about what you found challenging in the assignment and what kind of research resources you used. Just be aware that if someone didn’t receive the grade they were hoping for, they might not want to talk about it.
“Are you going to X event?”
Whether it’s a festival, campus tour, study group meetup or party, events are a great topic of conversation. They’re a neutral subject and open up the possibility of finding out more about your new friend. With this conversation starter, you could learn about their taste in music, movies, or art, and you may even find yourself heading to an event together.
“Did you watch the cricket game last night?”
A big part of Australian culture is the love of sport and this conversation starter does a great job of tapping into that interest. If you’re a sports fan, it also opens the door for you to find like-minded people who enjoy the same things as you, whether it’s cricket or football or rugby.
Topics to avoid
Now that you have a few ‘ice breaking’ ideas under your belt, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the topics you should avoid when talking to Aussies.
Ryan says that, while most Australians are open to talking about a broad range of topics, there are some you should avoid until you know someone better. Contentious social issues and politics are two subjects he’d urge other international students to avoid at the beginning of a friendship.
“As a conversation starter I don’t recommend it, [these subjects] can get some people really uncomfortable,” Ryan explains.
Religion and sex are other topics you should steer clear of, as they are deeply personal, and many people aren’t comfortable discussing them openly.
These rules aren’t set in stone and are context-dependent, but it’s generally safest to avoid conversation starters like these:
“Who did you vote for?”
Politics can be a divisive topic in Australia. Many people hold strong political opinions, and conversations can get heated quickly if you disagree on certain issues. Reserve questions and discussions about politics for your close friends.
“Come here often?”
This is a very well-known ‘pickup line’ around the world – and phrases like these usually aren’t appreciated in Australia. While the dating culture in Australia is casual, pickup lines – which are phrases used to express romantic interest – aren’t appropriate. If you’re interested in someone romantically, it’s best to get to know them a bit before asking them on a date. You should also never pressure anybody to go on a date with you if they’re not interested.
“How much money do you make/How much did X cost?”
Money is another sensitive topic for many people. When talking with Aussies, particularly those you don’t know very well, it’s best to steer clear of financial topics. For example, avoid asking how much money they earn at their job or how much certain belongings (such as their clothing, shoes or technology) cost.
Learn more about how to talk to Australians
When using these Aussie conversation starters, Ryan urges international students to not be overly worried about grammar mistakes.
“Just start talking,” Ryan says. “The reality is, no one cares about grammar when you’re speaking.”
Ryan also reminds students of the importance of putting yourself out there: “Go outside, talk to the people you see, don’t be afraid of making a mistake in a sentence.”
Above all else, it’s important to be patient and remember you’re not alone in your English language journey. Lots of other students will be getting used to the Australian accent, learning Aussie slang and improving their linguistic skills at the same time as you. Plus, since Aussies are such a friendly bunch of people, your local classmates will understand if you need a bit more time or practice to get comfortable with the language.
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