Language in the USA

Not an issue you normally think about, is it? From LA to NY, it’s all pretty much the same, and not vastly different from ours!

This is certainly true – to a degree. But one thing I discovered on a recent trip is this: outside the main tourist spots, a lot of people are totally unfamiliar with varieties of English other than the range on offer within the United States. When people in small communities in Utah were suddenly confronted by a question asked in my strange dialect, there was often a moment when they looked as though they’d been confronted by some alien who’d just landed, as aliens always do, in the desert down the road. Even after that initial moment had passed, there was still often a longer period of incomprehension, and I was sometimes obliged to translate what I said into something more familiar to American ears (I know they call the toilet the “restroom”, but you’d think they’d at least recognise other ways of saying it…)

And this was just the native speakers! The USA is now home to more than 40,000,000 people with Spanish as their first language; there will soon be more Spanish speakers in the USA than there are in Spain. Although most of these people also speak English to varying degrees, they are even less familiar with non-American varieties of English than the Anglos. When I told the Hispanic car hire guy that I wanted the car until “the seventh of May”, he didn’t get it until I managed to come up with “May seven”!

When it comes to potential for linguistic crises, the USA may not be the most worrying of destinations, but there is in any case an easy way round some of the problems: when the people you are speaking to are obviously Hispanic… just speak Spanish! Not only will you be understood much more readily, but you will instantly win new friends. Just a few cheerful words in Spanish can set you apart from the majority who don’t really want to know, and it’s almost guaranteed that a little conversation will follow on.

The USA is a great place in which to practise your Spanish. You can watch Spanish-speaking TV wherever you go, and even be amused by their version of Desperate Housewives (“Amas de casa desesperadas”) if you’re finding the original is getting just too improbable for words. Pick up a Spanish newspaper to catch the Hispanic line on Hillary Clinton. Read the bilingual notices that you see around the place. When speaking, you do also have a safety net, in that if you do get stuck, the chances are that your English, however strange its tones, will be generally understood as well!

Buen viaje, amigos, en los Estados Unidos…

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Top 10 beaches to visit in autumn

TripAdvisor.com has just released a list of the Top 10 Autumn Beach Destinations in the world.

1. Fiji
2. Pattaya, Thailand
3. Cook Islands
4. Bali
5. Luzon, Philippines
6. Khao Lak, Thailand
7. Dunedin, New Zealand
8. Port Vila, Vanuatu
9. Koror, Palau
10. Queensland

I can’t believe they ranked Dunedin number 7. Anyone who has been to Dunedin in autumn knows what I’m talking about. The last thing you want to be doing in Dunedin in autumn is to be sitting on a beach.  I wonder if it’s all those people from Invercargill heading north for a beach holiday skewing the results 😉

OK jokes aside, I’ll be heading down to Dunedin next week so I’ll find out for myself why Dunedin’s on the list. I haven’t been to Dunedin in 8 years, but my guess is not much has changed in that time.

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Why New Zealand needs to allow international students to stay

I suspect many New Zealanders think that international students should return home after they complete their studies here. Furthermore, because they are not New Zealanders, perhaps the prevailing view is that we are not obliged to help them. This is especially so when there are plenty of other New Zealand graduates looking for work. I don’t think there’s an obligation on our part to help international students find work after they graduate. Not even if they have paid us $20K per year in fees alone for the 3 or 4 years of their studies, and spending over $120K for a 3 year degree. There’s also no obligation to let them stay because it’s the humanitarian thing to do.

However, if we had more foresight, we would be doing our best to retain talent in this country, regardless of whether they are New Zealanders or not. As it stands, we are losing people at such a rate that when I catch up with fellow employers we begin to question if there are any unemployed skilled Kiwis left in this country.

net migration from nz to aust

This chart from interest.co.nz illustrate our net migration loss to Australia. As you can see, we’re certainly deep in the red.We are competing in a global labour market for talent. And we’re losing that battle. I don’t understand why we need to make life so difficult for smart, talented and hardworking people who WANT to live and work in this country. We’re pleading with New Zealanders to return home, and increasingly many don’t want to, as we can see from the migration data. We’re writing off student loan interest to bribe…oops, entice people to remain in this country. All in the name of stemming the brain drain. At the same time, we keep looking for ways to prevent international graduates from “competing” with locals for jobs. Employers who attempt to recruit these “foreigners” are harassed and asked to prove that there are no New Zealanders who can fill these roles. I wouldn’t be whining about “third world countries stealing Kiwi jobs”. I would far prefer to go out and steal their smart, hardworking and hungry people.

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Why is Australia ahead in language-learning?

VISION! This is so important. And vision doesn’t just happen. Strong leadership is critical. Which is why I’m pretty impressed with what Australia is doing. Our mates held the Australia 2020 Summit over the weekend.

The Summit brought together community leaders, business people and ordinary folk, to talk about the best ideas for building a modern Australia ready for the challenges of the 21st century.

What’s most impressive from a language-learning perspective is that delegates to the national security and future prosperity stream called for a radical ramping up of language skills. Foreign Minister Stephen Smith declared the goal “a most important thing”.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd“We have to make Australia’s understanding of Asian literacy and Asian culture almost second nature to us,” Mr Smith said.

“This is a most important thing we can do, not just from an international relations point of view but also from our young schoolchildren’s point of view.”

I suppose anyone who has heard Kevin Rudd speak in Mandarin would not be surprised at Australia’s stance. I was totally impressed when I first caught a youtube clip of Kevin Rudd’s speech at Beijing University. He even managed a joke in Mandarin.

And for those of you who understand Mandarin, check this out:

Kevin Rudd talking about himself in Mandarin

Australia’s 2020 vision for languages is inspiring. They would like to see every student in Australia learning a foreign language within 12 years. For a group of people with disparate interests to arrive at a goal like this is pretty remarkable: “to ensure that the major languages and cultures of our region are no longer foreign to Australians but are familiar and mainstreamed into Australian society”.

Now, if anyone wants to sign up for a foreign language class, we have classes starting next week!

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