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Colloquial language

The English that you learn from a grammar book and in the classroom is most likely to be
standard English. It will generally be language that everyone can understand all over the
world. But not all forms of English are standard.
Depending on where you are (in an English-speaking country), you will hear people using
a variety of expressions that you probably wont find in standard grammar books. While
some of these expressions are specific to a particular region, others may be specific to a
particular person. There are also some expressions that are in fashion one week but not
the next.
Have a look at the different ways you can say, How are you?

Hows it going?

How are things?

Whats up?

How you doing?

These non-standard or colloquial forms of English are quite acceptable in speech. In fact,
every language has standard and not-so-standard varieties. However, these expressions
might confuse a non-native speaker who learned English from textbooks or from a
non-native speaker of English.
In speech, it is the non-standard or colloquial expressions that are more likely to be used.
It is not necessary to learn all expressions of this kind, but learning some of these
expressions and using them in your speech will make you sound more natural. The
standard forms are preferred for formal writing.
Colloquial language is colourful and complex. You will hear it used in one form or another
in daily life.

Colloquialisms are the words that are used in everyday speech and in informal writing.
Colloquial language is generally acceptable in social forms of communication, like in a
staffroom and in friendly emails sent to a friend. It is important to note that colloquial
language should be kept to a minimum when writing a report for work or sending a
professional email.
Colloquial language includes contractions (shortening words), such as cant (cannot),
dont (do not) and werent (were not). It also includes abbreviations, such as eg (for
example) and Pty Ltd (proprietary limited).

Idioms are also used in colloquial language. Idioms are used to express something
different from what the words actually mean. For example, an Australian idiom is fair
dinkum which is used to ask, Is it true?

Commonwealth of Australia 2012, Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License

Slang is another form of colloquial language. Be careful when using slang words as they
are mostly used in social interaction and can be offensive to some people. For example,
Gday mate means, Hello, friend! See the table for more examples.


Hes done a Harold Holt!

Hes disappeared!

No worries!

No problems!

Im on a good wicket!

Im in a good situation.

Its hard yakka.

Its hard work.

How can you learn what these strange expressions mean?

Watch Australian movies or television shows and learn to listen for

colloquialisms. Isolate the colloquialisms and study their meanings. Try watching
movies like Crocodile Dundee, The Castle or Australia for lots of examples of
Australian colloquial language.

Look at the history of the words used in the colloquialism. Learn how they came to part of
the dialect.

Yakka is an Aboriginal word meaning work.

Harold Holt is a former Australian prime minister who went missing at sea, and
was never found.

Find out what each of the following colloquialisms means.

Use each colloquialism in a sentence.

signed and sealed


rags to riches


up to speed


to and fro


safe and sound


you beauty!






flat out like a lizard drinking!

Commonwealth of Australia 2011, Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License