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Overcoming Language Barriers in the Australian Workplace

The business and workplace culture in Australia is unique in numerous ways. The general perception is that Australians are laid-back but also hard workers. This could lead to confusion about Australian work etiquette. But one of the things you must deal with when working as an expat is overcoming language barriers in Australia.

Language Barriers in the Australian Workplace

English is the primary language in Australia. Therefore, expats living in Australia won’t have difficulty adjusting if they’re from an English-speaking country – or so you think. The Australian language and vocabulary are unique, which can lead to confusion about using certain words. 

It is crucial to overcome these language barriers in Australia, especially in business and the workplace. Aussie office slang is one of the biggest hurdles you will face when working in Australia. Below are some examples of office jargon in Australia to help overcome the language barrier:

  • Circle Back – It means to reconsider and give it another thought.
  • Touch Base – It means to make another contact with someone.
  • Chocka Block – It means someone is very busy or has a full schedule.
  • Grab a cuppa – It is an invitation to grab a cup of tea or coffee to discuss something in an informal setting.
  • Get your ducks in a row – It means to get organised.
  • It’s on my radar – It means someone is fully aware of the situation. 
  • Play it by ear – It means to decide on something later.
  • No-brainer – It means something is obvious or evident. 

Australia’s multicultural demography is another factor contributing to the communication challenges in the workplace for expats. A considerable portion of Australia’s population is non-native English speakers. Therefore, you should also consider cultural and language differences during workplace communication. 

Multilingualism continues to be a challenge in Australia, especially in major cities like Melbourne and Sydney, where you will find a great diversity in the population. The best place to start would be to learn the local culture and communication etiquette to immerse quickly to avoid miscommunication. Another option is to seek feedback and support from your colleagues. The more time you spend with Australians, the sooner you will understand the nuances of Australian communication and language.

Australia has a multicultural demography

Tips for Communicating in the Australian Workplace

Proper and effective communication at work is crucial to your success. You must learn to communicate with your Australian colleagues to succeed as an expat. Here are some communication tips to consider for more success.

1. Be direct in communication.

Judging one’s status or appearance in an Australian workplace setting is often difficult since they don’t focus on appearances. Therefore, everyone in the workplace is encouraged to communicate directly and professionally with everyone else. Keep your communication functional and purposeful.

Australians are polite but will be direct in giving feedback and criticism as long as they use professional language. Australians at work are precise with their choice of words, but they speak with honesty.

2. Respect cultural differences.

Australia has a diverse population with a considerable migrant and expat demography. Therefore, Australians are used to working with people from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

When communicating with your co-workers, always take time to learn about cultural differences and be respectful of them. It will help avoid workplace conflict and ensure you can work smoothly with everyone.

3. Familiarise yourself with the accent.

Australians have a distinct accent when they speak. Therefore, one adjustment you should make when working with Australians is understanding their accent. 

The good news is that most Australians in a professional setting can switch their accents. They can use a refined tone when speaking professionally, which makes it easier for non-Australians and expats to understand them.

4. Be open to humour.

Australians are known to be laid-back, even at work. Remember this when you are talking with your colleagues, especially Australians. Some like to inject humour and light-hearted jokes into conversations. They can keep things serious and professional if the situation requires it, but most Australians want to lighten the mood whenever possible. 

Australians are also known for their self-deprecating jokes since many like to appear humble. But don’t agree when they make self-deprecating jokes because that can be an insult. Feel free to toss in your own self-deprecating jokes instead. 

You should also be aware of Australian sarcasm, which can be witty but dry. At first, expats find it difficult to detect those jokes and sarcasm, but you will get used to them over time.

Australians are known to be laid-back, even at work.

5. Read conflicting cues

In casual conversations at work, many Australians give you conflicting answers when asked direct questions requiring a ‘yes or no’ response. For example, if you ask your colleague at work how they are doing, they will answer you with ‘Yeah, nah.’ For expats, this can be confusing. In this case, ‘yeah, nah’ means no, and ‘nah, yeah’ means yes. 

It is one of the language nuances in Australia that you must deal with and get familiar with over time.

6. Know about non-verbal cues

Language barriers in Australia are not limited to spoken or verbal language. Non-verbal cues are also included. 

As an expat, you can excel at workplace communication in Australia by studying non-verbal cues in the Australian language. For example, Australians like maintaining eye contact to express sincerity and trustworthiness when speaking to you. But don’t hold eye contact for too long, as it can make the other person feel uncomfortable.

You must maintain an arm’s length distance between the other person when talking in a business setting unless you’re close to someone. You can use your index finger to point when making a point but avoid pointing it directly at someone as that can be considered to be rude.

Final Thoughts

Every workplace situation is unique, as different organisations can have varying company cultures. Therefore, overcoming language barriers in Australia and the workplace depends mainly on workplace culture and communication. Some workplace environments are more casual than others. Depending on where you work, you should adjust your communication approach accordingly. 

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