Study Abroad Student Handbook
Australia Australia
Center for Global Education

Why Learn a Language?

Two types of language groups exist in Australia: Aboriginal languages and varieties of English. Australian English includes both that brought to the island by the British and other emigrants in the 18th century, and the Creole and Pidgin English spoken by some of the descendants of the indigenous people who arrived there thousands of years ago.

Aboriginal languages are an important part of Australia's linguistic heritage. About 60,000 years ago, Australia's original settlers came from the north over land bridges that once connected Australia to Papua New Guinea and Indonesia from Asia. Currently, there are 150 aboriginal groups still living in Australia and they each speak their own languages.

When the English explorer Cook arrived in Australia, about 200 indigenous languages were being used. Now, 150 aboriginal languages survive. Of the 200,000 aboriginal people now in Australia, only 10% claim to speak an aboriginal language. There now exists a movement to encourage the positive image and use of Aboriginal languages in bilingual schools, radio, TV, and printed materials. A command of Australian aboriginal languages is essential for students of anthropology, archeology, oral history and literature, early history, human origins, migration theory, linguistics, and biology. From the world over, students in these disciplines come to Australia specifically to research aboriginal people and languages.

English now dominates aboriginal languages because it has become the language of government, education, and mass media. But the origins of English in Australia are not so prestigious. The British "founded" Australia as a penal colony in the 18th century. As the "Cockney" accent is associated with a poorly educated lower class of London, we can infer that some of the criminals sent to Australia spoke with a cockney accent. In addition, the British shipped a large population of poor and uneducated Irish to Australia both as prisoners and as laborers. This English merged with the English spoken by the more educated English nobility sent to oversee the colony. This mixing eventually formed modern day Australian English, which is taught in classrooms the world over and now highly regarded as its own proper and distinct form of the English language.

earning and improving your understanding of English can only make you a more competitive global candidate in any field. After Mandarin Chinese and Spanish, English is the most widely spoken language in the world and is the common language used for transnational communication in business, science, technology, telecommunications, medicine and several other major industries. Learning Australian English will open up a whole new English-speaking world, as you will be able to communicate and work with English speakers in the U.K., the United States, South Africa, and dozens of other countries where English is an official or second language.

Most Australian English words are the same as those used in other varieties of English anywhere else in the world; only a minority of words comprise the difference and make Australian English vocabulary, pronunciation, and usage unique. Many of these unique words have roots in words modified and borrowed from aboriginal languages. Due to this mixing of aboriginal languages with English, many non-standard English dialects like Pidgin English and Creole also exist across Australia. Pidgin English is used for communication between groups when they have no other language in common. Creole is a form of Pidgin English that had expanded to become the main language of the members of a community and, unlike Pidgin, can be used to express the whole range of human experiences. People who speak these non-standard English dialects are often condemned as poorly educated; however, their dialects are real and need to be validated rather than eradicated. Aboriginal people didn't invent these non-standard dialects, but rather imitated them. It was the poorly educated British and Irish that first spoke to aboriginal people using this form of "improper" English. Students of history, linguistics, and anthropology find the study of these non-standard dialects fascinating and applicable to exploring other dialects like Ebonics and Appalachian.

Read on – Why Study Abroad and find answers how study abroad can affect your personal growth and career path.

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