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By Alison Wilson

You may have struggled when meeting someone new and felt uneasy by their awkward expression and use of language. Some people are immediately happy to play the teacher and mouth syllables and offer corrections. Me, personally I wait to be invited to ‘help’ or correct their approach to the English language, in this context Australian English. Why? Because I think it’s rude to stop people when they are trying to conjugate new verbs, say ‘tion’ or take extra care to pronounce ‘es’ at the end of clothes. In the latter’s case it took months for me to correct my husband’s pronunciation. Maybe it is a bit selfish but I just found those little idiosyncrasies just so damn cute.

A newer friend asked at once if I could correct her and thrives on having a conversation with someone that will listen and suggest more modern words and offer encouragement. It is exciting hearing her progress and become one of those clever people that have mastered their 4th or 5th language. Meanwhile, I hold zero dispute with myself about getting my tongue around complicated Ukrainian words (a category 3 language according to the Defense Language Institute (DLI), a US institution so therefore not indicative of a global ranking) piled up consonants. It is the ability to connect and emphasise with each other that makes the meeting all the more thrilling.

I have also felt the odd twinge of jealously when friends have met brimming with excitement and shared that they have just had their first dream in English.

This hasn’t happened to me, other than the odd day dream wishing to have a decent quality ‘Medialuna’ with my coffee. I want it!

The University of Sydney comes in at number 18 in the most recent QS WorldUniversity Language ratings for the English language and literature. Australia is a popular and friendly place for students to come and learn English at private colleges or enter into short courses while working or holidaying, majority of these internationals being of Italian origin. Recently, Australia has even surpassed Canada (Canadian English once considered the ‘median’ English) as the ultimate language destination and comes a close second to the United Kingdom and the United States.

The general consensus tells us that we all need positive reinforcement i.e. nod, offer a facial expression or a hand gesture to encourage a speaker to continue, acknowledge that you understand what they are trying to say or offer reassurance that they have made a common error.

The TEFL academy tells us that it is best practise to ‘save the corrections for later’.

These comments have been made largely from experiences in comfortable social settings both here and abroad but mostly in Australia. What has your personal experience been and do you have any useful strategies to pass on? Another discussion would be the complexities of language acquisition which is both endless and controversial….



Polygots and Kids with LAD'S


By Alison Wilson

I am not a polygot but I seem to be surrounded by an army of them. This was the marginally less cynical alternative for a title for this post. But, jumping to it, the prompt page on DuoLingo provides a few statistics and a simple infographic breaking down a long list of countries and languages of the top three languages combing both the number of countries which the language is spoken in and the list of the languages in the world by the approx. number of people who speak them. Not surprisingly, they are 1. English 2. Spanish 3. Arabic.

Admittedly, I sparked myself with two hard truths today 1. I am a lazy person, in which privilege led me to be born in a developed English speaking country with very little cultural stimulus to learn another language. 2. I love English, not just a bit but a ALOT.

Although, I did pass Japanese at school and elementary German (Australian humour at play here - not rewarding myself). I have not had the desire or the need to push myself. That is until my three year old starting running rings around me. After six months in sunny Barcelona she is speaking Spanish, Catalan and enough Portugese to possibly help me out on vacation.

It is well known children have elastic minds they are little awesome geniuses running around and impressing the pants off all of us. 

As, my friend Chomsky explains and goes slightly further every child has a ‘language acquisition device’ or LAD which encodes the major principles of a language and its grammatical structures into the child’s brain. There is some hard evidence to support his theories which would be fairly endless to list here, he of course has his critics but their list is much shorter. 

Chomsky applies his theory to all languages as they all contain nouns, verbs, consonants and vowels and children appear to be ‘hard-wired’ to acquire the grammar. For example, the simple stuff such as “children often say things that are ungrammatical such as ‘mama ball’, which they cannot have learnt passively”.

Or a more complicated example : Chomsky used the sentence ‘colourless green ideas sleep furiously’, which is grammatical although it doesn’t make sense, to prove his theory: he said it shows that sentences can be grammatical without having any meaning, that we can tell the difference between a grammatical and an ungrammatical sentence without ever having heard the sentence before, and that we can produce and understand brand new sentences that no one has ever said before.

So, as my daughter sails past me linguistically I have turned to a tutor with the hope he has a magic wand and the fantastic intuitive app DuoLingo that prods me along, gently.

To be continued…


A Visit to the International Slavery Museum at Liverpool. United Kingdom

By Alison Wilson

This permanent exhibition situated at Albert Dock in Liverpool was the site where Africans were bought, branded, sold, and ‘picked up at grab-sales’ (*description taken from historic signage displayed at the Museum) and shipped like the cargo to unmeasurable cruelty, uncertainty, isolation & cultural estrangement, and possible death. 

The museum is a perpetual reminder of Liverpool’s place in history as a major Transatlantic slave port. The act of ‘slaving’ and related trades is said tohave occupied a third and possibly up to ahalf of Liverpool's shipping activity in the period of 1750 to 1807. The Museum also accounts that ‘Liverpool ships transported half of the 3 million Africans carried across the Atlantic by British slavers’.

This sort of culpability comes at a price. The varying groups and individuals visiting the museum of shared similar reactions of shock and repulsion when confronted with images and stories of slavery. Many of the local families stood silently in front of displays naming prominent local historical figures and family names who benefitted from slavery, many of those named also have popular city streets christened after them. Surprisingly, some even gave generously to poor houses in their home country with money made from slave labour and all of it’s associated abuses.

Despite being denounced for their involvement in slavery, or the wonder of the trickle down process of their wealth to current relatives and status, they weren’t alone in their involvement, just like their fellows in business and community and a grander European scale, they were involved with the most popular business of their time. The very streets that are walked upon were funded and enhanced by the money made from slavery, the effects are everywhere.

What is so substantial about the exhibition at Liverpool, is it’s permanency. It is not a fleeting reminder or a passing piece of attention on this grossly disturbing piece of our global humanity. It is an educational and thorough account of all of the processes and effects of slavery. It is a sobering experience for any mature adult. There are various collections that enable you to witness the richness of the cultures that the enslaved were stolen their way of life and also the diversity of their way of life and lack of understanding from those coming to steal. 

What humanises this a little is the sharing of the lived experiences by the former slaves. You could listen to audios and touch a map to gain insights from real life, like conversations in the slave quarters in Bermuda, the dinner table in Haiti, songs and stories, amazing narratives that were passed on and kept secret amongst the generations of slaves. The storytelling of experiences from former slaves, who remind us not only of their sufferings and sorrows, their longings and dreams. These lived experiences, of course still impact our families and cultures today.

I was impressed by a portraiture wall featuring Liverpudlians largely of mixed race heritage. They expressed their experiences and stories with casual and extreme racism, discrimination and assault. These stories were recent. But, all of the members were proud of their mixed heritage and involved in activism and education. This modern form of storytelling opens up the conversation, and works towards eradicating racism. Another effective display featured a legacy wall with many famous and influential people from the global black diaspora while a Ku Klux Klan outfit, stood caged in the centre as an ugly reminder.

For me, The picture belowwas even grosser than the anonymously donated Ku Klux Klan Outfit. It is a Christmas Card, disgusting in all its possibilities hard and impossible to fathom in any space or time.

Clearly, the faces of all of the slaves bare such pain being held to display and painted with ‘Merry Christmas’ lettering, all in all, so this family could show off their ownership and ‘wealth’ to other families. The family possess bold looks on their faces and an opposite disposition to their enslaved, and were obviously well prepared in advance for the photograph.

A local family, stopped and expressed their disgust, the female of the couple stated ‘I would be so ashamed to be a part of this family, they must still have family here, how awful,' her companion responded ‘Yeah, and I betthey are probably still living off the money’

Soon after, I watched a Zimbabwean family, who I later learned were visiting from Holland stand before the portrait. I had been listening to them earlier as the father had explained historical events and outcomes of slavery. His teenage son absorbed all of the information and watched and listened respectively. I stood before the large portrait with so many thoughts racing through my mind, largely disbelief,“””How could this be OK in any time and era?” 

After some small talk with the family and receipt ofa warm handshake when I asked if his children spoke Shona, we moved on to the next display, an interactive map of nations and their involvement in slavery in Africa. We debated inaccuracies on the map, some small islands off the coasts were missing and multiple or overlapping involvement by various countries were not represented. But, we concluded thatbroadly the exhibition was great and seemed to be a fair representation of what occurred. We discussed in depth European collision in international slavery. After-all, despite the fact that Portugal lead the way and Great Britain closely following in numbers

The then prime minister and abolitionist William Pitt the Younger told the House of Commons in 1792,"No nation in Europe,""has plunged so deeply into this guilt as Great Britain."

BUT it was the practice and the creation of the business,of slavery, that was supported by governments, churches, charities, families and other groups throughout Europe and into other slaving domains that propagated the continuation and misery of slavery.

Despite, standing on the ground where slaves stood before their masters, the movement of the crowd, and general attitude in the museum and around Liverpool was inter-grated and relaxed. Many mixed families, descendants from African nations were visiting the museum. It is hard to believe that this modern site was pivotal in the transatlantic slave movement. If only those waiting at the dock could speak now of their stories but feel at peace that their ancestors in the city and abroad now are equal members of society. Credit to the Liverpudlians for the permanent exhibition and owning their part in the business of slavery. Who is next?

Alison Wilson

If you want to know more, there is loads to read here.