As a Swiss person you learn English from 7th grade on, but coming to Australia made me realize the first few week that English is not just English. It has very different forms and different dialects. When I arrived in Wollongong, the Australian accent gave me a lot of trouble, because my ear was just not used to it. I feel this would be different with English as it is spoken in England or the US, because I know it from the movies.
Further, the Australian accent itself has a huge variety: People from “Whoop Whoop” (which can be translated to a place far from everything else) speak way more “Australian” than people from the coast. I can say now that I am used to the dialect, and I am not struggling anymore with understanding it. But understanding and speaking are two different things.
People are still able to figure out that I am from overseas just from the way I say “G’Day” (good day). This made me realize that my English might be better, but it is far from “Australian”. On the other hand, having an accent is also an advantage because people are very interested in where you are from and what you are doing here. Therefore, you often meet new friends and start conversations just because you do not speak English properly. By now, daily conversations have become surprisingly easy. I do not have to translate the task in my head, and I can talk freely. This makes it possible to participate in a very fast conversation (yes, Swiss people, especially Bernese people, talk very slowly compared to Australians).
What surprised me is how well Australian law students write. In a Zoom group chat they write texts that are very concise, in a clear language and to the point. This is very impressive, because I think I would not even be able to write like this in German. It might be related to their education system. When you study law in Australia, the main assessments you have to fulfill are essays that at times can be about very theoretical, complex materials. This is different from Switzerland, where the focus is on the practical solving of cases. I hope that I can take home some of these skills and improve my writing in general.
Another challenge was adapting to legal English: Talking about study related topics is different than a talk about daily subjects. I had to learn the legal terms and expressions to really be able to participate in class. Therefore, I really appreciate the system of active class participation in Australia because I forces me to actively speak and participate.
I think that being acquainted with legal English and so being able to talk about a complicated legal problem with the right vocabulary will be very important for my future work as a lawyer. Further, the exchange with Australian law students and professors has helped me a lot with improving intercultural communication because “professional communication” is very different. In Australia, you call the professors by name and discussions like the whole class environment are less formal than in Switzerland. I feel like I must be careful to not seem “too distanced”. This shows that working with international people will always also need a reflection of the way how to communicate and how to speak and it will make me aware of such differences in communication.
Further, I learned from communicating in a foreign language is that by describing something in a very specific way you can avoid misunderstandings.