Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Just six words, and I had already fallen in love with foreign languages.

Kiah, Yui, Akane and cherry blossom time
Every teacher has students who just do everything you could hope for. I'm not talking about just those who become language teachers (would I wish that on them?) I'm talking about those who clearly love the language, and all it can bring them, who catch on, get the bug, persist, pursue it and use it in all sorts of professional or personal paths. Chelsea is one, now working for a development agency. Kiah now living in Japan is another, a language addict who studied both Indonesian and Japanese to advanced levels, worked and struggled in poverty as a student, got herself to both countries. And like me, it puzzles and concerns her that Australians in their droves turn off and turn away from study of other languages. Read Kiah's blog post in Japanese if you can (google translate does a hopeless job on rendering it in English. See, we need humans to learn each other's languages.) Kiah has translated it into English for us.

Australia's Big Problem. Recently I haven’t written a blog, so I thought I would write a blog about a topic that’s important to me today.
Recently I have been emailing my Indonesian professor from when I was a university student about ‘the importance of studying foreign languages.’ The number of students in Australia studying foreign languages is decreasing rapidly. There are too few language teachers, and interest in foreign languages is also being lost.
‘Why should I study foreign languages? Everyone should just speak English!’ I have met many Australians who ask these questions.
Why has this type of thinking sprung up? Is it because Australia is separated from other countries? Is it because English is the easiest language to learn? (This is definitely untrue. People who think this have clearly never studied English as a second language.) Why is the study of foreign languages so hated?
When I was in primary school (year 4 I believe) I first experienced studying a foreign language. At my primary school, students had to study Indonesian from year 4 to year 7. The first thing I learnt was:

Siapa nama Anda?
Nama saya Haruko.

(What is your name?
My name is Haruko)
Just six words, and I had already fallen in love with foreign languages. The reason why was because, by using completely different words, I could still express the same meaning. To a fourth grade me, that was cool!
From that day till now, I still love studying foreign languages. When I started high school, I continued studying Indonesian but I started wanting to learn another language. At my school library I found a Japanese textbook and started teaching myself. Studying Japanese was fun, so when I started university I made Japanese and Indonesian my majors. Thanks to studying foreign languages, when I was in university, I was able to do student exchanges to universities in both Japan and Indonesia.
Thanks to studying foreign languages, I have made many friends, I have experienced other cultures, and have many good memories. If I only spoke English, I don’t think I would have been able to experience the things I have. *** Research and papers on the advantages of learning foreign languages have been done, yet there are still Australian youth who say ‘I don’t want to study languages.’ It’s not only the fault of their attitudes. As there aren’t many language teachers in Australia, there isn’t consistency in the languages taught.
Example: My primary school taught Indonesian. The closest high school to my primary school also taught Indonesian. However, the primary schools in the next district taught Japanese and Chinese, therefore when those students began at our high school, they suddenly had to study year 8 Indonesian. Many students dropped Indonesian because it was too difficult. When I started high school there were over 100 students (in year 8) who were studying Indonesian. By the time I graduated high school, there were only five students (including myself) still studying Indonesian.
This problem is a nation-wide problem. This year the Australian Government released the ‘White Paper.’ In it is written that from now they will have Asian languages studied in schools. In particular: Japanese, Indonesian, Hindi and Chinese.
These four languages are important to Australia. However, because there are few language teachers and students’ attitudes towards languages are so poor, how are they going to properly teach these languages?
As far as I know, there are no schools teaching Hindi. Of course there are people who speak Hindi, so they can become teachers, but it will take time. The government wants students to start studying languages as soon as possible, but because it will take time, how will they fix the current problems? How will they get students to study languages to an advanced level? We need to answer these kinds of questions.
(I apologize for this blog post being so long. I will finish here and next time I’ll write about my attitudes towards foreign languages, my memories and what I get out of it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

How did Jacky Chan learn English?

Ellen: How did you learn English? You taught yourself English, right?
Jacky Chan: Yes.
Ellen: How did you learn?
Jacky Chan: By the song!
Ellen: What song?
Jacky Chan: Oh, all kind of song. Before, I tried to listen, I watch TV but I cannot repeat. So I buy cassette, oh, I'm talking about long time ago, no DVD, CD, cassette, the cassette, the country song! You know like Willie Nelson, so and so. And when you hear the song: [sings] "You are always on my mind, you are always on my mind." [audience claps.] Then, oh! Then I can talk to the girls, you know.
Ellen: Right, and when we come back, you are actually a very popular singer, and uh, like, one of your songs was downloaded 500 million times! So, when we come back, Jacky's going to sing for us.
Jackie Chan Ellen DeGeneres Interview 8/01/2010 (Full)
Comment on YouTube page:
Jackie Talking: *accent*
Jackie Singing: *no accent*

Friday, November 9, 2012

My war of independence with American English


My voice is my identity. In a foreign land it defines me. I open my mouth and people know where I am from. I’ve been in America for over a year now and it looks like I will be here for the foreseeable but I have one major fear: Americanisms.
I’m not knocking the way our American friends speak. Good luck to them. But I’m from Reading in England. And I want to sound as if I’m from Reading in England. More

Friday, November 2, 2012

Australia Asia Research and Education Foundation (AAREF)  Please check out a new venture pioneered by my inspirational former teacher and supervisor, Dr Thao Le. He writes: "We are so privileged to have Professor Noam Chomsky (MIT, USA) and Professor Teun Van Dijk to join our list of Honorary Professors."

Language learning on social media

If Australia is  going to take on online language learning in a big way, as the new White paper suggests, it's time we all really started to critically explore all angles. Two articles: 

On the attractiveness of social media for language learning: a look at the state of the art <>

Facebook-ing and the Social Generation: A New Era of Language Learning <>

in a special issue on “Social media and language learning: (r)evolution” of the French journal ALSIC

(sourced by way of Joe Dale's Twitter stream).

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Australia in the Asian Century White Paper

Australia in the Asian Century White Paper
See Executive Summary. Educators read Chapter 6: Building capabilities. Arts communities: Chapter 9: Deeper and broader relationships.

"Australia’s people-to-people links will be deeper and broader, through government support and through the actions of the entire community. This will include the substantial flows of people and ideas between institutions, such as parliaments, educational institutions, business and community groups and the public service."
View Prime Minister Julia Gillard's launch of the White Paper at the Lowy Institute  28 October 2012 on ABC TV 24.

A speech marking a historical step forward ? Up to all of us.

Lera Boroditsky: How language shapes thought - distributing attention and attributing agency

One of my heroes (wonderful public speaker) was on this week's Australian Radio National program "All in the Mind".
Lera Boroditsky from Stanford University  How language shapes thought

* Her discussion of accidental versus intentional action would help explain some Indonesian verb forms that do not have English equivalents (ter- and ke-an). I liked her expression "distributing attention" and therefore attributing agency, OR avoiding doing so. Language contributes to our social understandings, judgements and actions. Makes me wonder if Westerners are bigger on agency and therefore blaming and responsibility? Do Asian languages and thinking work more at saving face?

Lera B says: "Each language comes with its own cognitive tool kit, almost as if each has its own parallel universe that sees the world a little bit differently. [...] "How tragic then that we are losing a language every two weeks .. tremendous cultural loss .. incredible cultural treasure."

She also talks about linguistically laying the blame for Timberlake exposing Janet Jackson's breast and the power of metaphor in dealing with complex systems.

ABC blurb: It’s been controversial for centuries but new empirical research suggests that language has a powerful influence over the way we think and perceive the world. Lera Boroditsky from Stanford University suggests that Japanese and Spanish speakers have a different sense of blame, and some Indigenous Australians have a different sense of space – all because of the language they speak.

And last week was The bilingual brain "We explore how speaking more than one language influences our cognitive capacity."

Also see Lera Boroditsky on The Long Now Foundation series  26 Oct 2010.  It's brilliant. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

“Our language is like a pearl inside a shell. The shell is like the people that carry the language. If our language is taken away, then that would be like a pearl that is gone. We would be like an empty oyster shell.”
Yurranydjil Dhurrkay, Galiwin’ku, North East Arnhem Land, Australia

Our Land Our Languages Language Learning in Indigenous Communities 
Report to Commonwealth Government of Australia, September 2012. The report suggests that of the 250 local languages spoken in Australia at the time of colonisation; only about 18 remain in strong use.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

David Gill: In Love with Local Languages

David Gill: In Love with Local Languages The Jakarta Post Wednesday, August 1, 2012  "A country which ranks second in terms of the number of local languages (the first being Papua New Guinea), Indonesia remains the best place  for Gill to carry out research on minority languages, which often escape local linguists’ attention."[ ...] Gill says in the eyes of many parents and the public in general, using local languages is less prestigious than using Indonesian and a  much-spoken international language such as English. Yet, he refutes this widely-held perception, arguing that it is a sheer fallacy.

“In my view, being bilingual and bicultural is much better because it can raise cross-cultural sensitivity and also accord a language user a superior status,” the American-trained linguist added.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

An excellent article and video talk by Bernard Lane in The Australian 12 June 2012 about languages education (at all levels). Article is at

Please watch Bernard's very convincing, common sense video summarising "Australia's Language Problem"

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What does cheese have to do with preserving languages? | ABC Radio Australia
Three linguists liken saving endangered languages to preserving the variety of cheeses. Reclamation and maintainance of languages can result in cultural diversity and pride.
There are approximately 7,000 languages spoken worldwide today, but half of these languages are predicted to extinct by the end of this century. According to UNESCO experts, a language dies out every 14 days. The importance of preserving languages is the topic of discussion in this week's social segment with community linguist Vaso Elefsiniotis, Dr Simon Musgrave from the School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics at Monash University and the Chair of Endangered Languages from the University of Adelaide, Professor Ghil'ad Zuckermann.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

One country, one language?

In Agent 6, by Tom Rob Smith (2011), Yates, an FBI agent in the 1950-70s to the right of Genghis Kahn, asks:

- What language is that?
- It is Dari.
- That what they speak in Afghanistan?
- One of several languages.
- Maybe that's why your country is in such a mess. A country should have one language. That's a problem we've got here: too many languages creeping in, confusing people. One country, one language - you'd be surprised at how upset people become when you suggest it. Seems pretty logical to me. [END QUOTE]

Seems pretty logical if you want mind control and behaviour control (and that is the business of government, religion, business and even cultures). Seems pretty illogical if you look at evolution, social and natural, which in fact sponsors diversity out of which grows creativity. Multi-lingualism does not have to sponsor conflict unless you are brutish, bigotted, obsessed with power, or you enjoy conflict and its spin-off benefits. Imposed monolingualism is part of dumb patriotism, utterly contrary to democratic education systems and societies which claim to encourage every student to find their own talents and interests, not to impose dull uniformity. Obstinate monolingualism is about fear and exploiting fear. It is a curable phobia though.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Place names and "why the things around me were the way they were"

From Kate Grenville's 2012 novel, Sarah Thornhill.
Gammaroy, he said. You know it's some distant cousin of the word the black natives use for the place. The closest that our English can get. As we've done in Ireland you know.
Well, I didn't know, had not an idea in the wide world what he was talking about.
Take the Irish word for a place, he said. Mangle it into English. We call it Glenmire but in Irish it's ----- and then he said a word that did sound a little like Glenmire, but with more on the end, and a sort of hawk-and-cough thing in the middle. Easier for us English, you see, he said. Make it something we know. As we did with Gammaroy.He glanced to see if I was interested.
Now that I'd caught on to what he meant, I was. In all my fifteen years I'd never wondered where the name of a place might come from, nor ever met the kind of person who thought about such things. Made me ashamed, as Bub's old trousers didn't. The narrow ignorant life I'd led. Never been further than Sydney, never done anything grander than go to the Caledonian Hotel for dinner and catch a glimpse of the governor in a crowd, never learnt to read or write, not as much as my own name, or given a thought to why the things around around me were the way they were."

This makes me think of Tolkein and his interest in the buried history behind personal and place names. And makes me think of Placenames Australia, the Newsletter of the Australian National Placenames Survey and the endless interest in their work of detecting, tracing, ferretting for evidence and the wonderful stories that emerge from patient pursuit of "why?" Look at demonyms in the last issue for some linguistic fun and nonsense.