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January 18th, 2022
Jillian Symons – Where Languages have Taken Me

As I approach my 70th birthday, I often reflect on how rich my life experiences have been because I speak other languages than my native English (the Australian version!)

My language learning began at high school with French and German, and then continued in university with external classes in Spanish, and more recently Japanese through off-campus university. There have been smatterings of survival Turkish, Norwegian, Italian, Russian etc according to my travels – I always learn the polite formulae before I travel to a new country.

But Greek has always been a passion and 2 weeks in an immersion school on the little island of Tinos a few years ago, is certainly an experience I hope to repeat again when we can travel.

Although Australia is a county of immigration, and 40% of our population comes from a non-English speaking background, the teaching and learning of languages in our schools is poor and not really valued as it should be. The 200+ languages of our indigenous Australians first nation people are also not valued nor taught in our mainstream education systems.

Our Asian neighbours’ languages are also taught in our schools now : Mandarin, Korean, Indonesia and Japanese.

As a multi-lingual person, my “normal”, I lament this paucity of study in our education system and count myself as one of the fortunate ones from my personal mono-lingual family with English/Scottish background. Tolerance and cultural understanding are what the planet Earth is currently lacking, and language learning and experience is one way to combat this ignorance.

Professionally, I am reminded daily of the constant effort running a small business which promotes foreign language resources in what is a niche market.

COVID in Australia has made many businesses struggle with our closed borders and lockdowns with schools closed. We have exceeded 200 days in strict lockdown now in Melbourne and the count continues. The toll is huge on the wide Australian community.

As an Australian, I love to travel, and to do that, we plan well in advance. We have to! It takes 5 hours from Melbourne to the north coast of Australia before we even leave our own airspace!

As a university student when my friends were doing the whole London “thing” in Earls Court, I headed straight to Europe. It amazed me that Australians were just looking for another English-speaking experience when all I wanted was to immerse myself in other languages and cultures. The friends I made in my youth hostel travels remain in contact even after all these 50+ decades.

Now as a parent and grand-parent, I have to admire the courage of my parents to wave me off to the other side of the world where our only contact was my occasional postcard that took 3 weeks to get home and the rare reverse-charges phone call. They never knew where I was or what I was doing and just had to trust that I could look after myself. I never told them of the times when I couldn’t!

Travel for me also means for my business as well. Two years ago, I attended the Frankfurt Book Fair for the 43rd consecutive year and LIBER the Spanish Book Fair for 20+ years. There have been many changes in business since the mid 70’s, but the love of meeting new people at the Bookfairs, and exchanging stories in different languages, amid discussing new titles, teaching and learning methodology, are the constant highlights for me. Greeting my business colleagues in their language or another common language, is always a pleasure. It isn’t always English!

This is where I first met Cath from b small as she launched her small business in a tiny, yellow, bee-adorned booth at the Frankfurt Fair. We loved our annual meetings and finding our small personal links. A 45-minute appointment was 10 minutes on business, and then hearing about her house in Wales, bike trips and our other personal exchanges. And now it is Sam I see (when there are Fairs!) and the contact is so enjoyable.

As a book exhibitor and presenter at foreign language conferences, I have travelled this vast country many times with my heavy boxes of books and met language teachers, parents and children from the multicultural communities spread throughout our great land… and also across New Zealand.

My smile widens when I encounter foreign young people working in Australia on the 12-24 month work visas for under 30 year olds. I hear their accents, their varying degrees of confidence in English, and can straight away start speaking to them in their language (not always perfectly) … and then their smiles widen. Hearing their stories and listening to their future plans is so enjoyable.

As a would-be golfer, I have travelled to many countries with my partner and friends on wonderful golf trips in Italy, France, Germany, Argentina and the UK.

As a cricket lover, I have sat at Lords, and cricket grounds around the UK and the West Indies  : St Lucia, Trinidad, Barbados.

I have caught ships all around the world from the North Cape of Norway to an expedition to Antarctica from Ushuaia in Argentina. Being able to speak to the crew and other non-English speaking guests, is a privilege and a pleasure.

And now my oldest grandson is in an immersion French programme in primary school, I am so grateful he will be able to experience languages too. His Afghan father speaks Dari, so the beginning seeds of languages have been sown.

The world is my multilingual oyster – and I am fortunate that my life is so much the richer for it.


Jillian Symons

Jillian has been running Intext Book Company in Australia for 45 years.
She started her professional life as a language teacher and librarian so it was a natural progression into promoting and selling foreign language books.
She continues to study languages with her most recent passion being Greek… oh those verbs.. !

Visit the Intext Website

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