“I used to play soccer”

I have just completed the Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA). My last practice teaching lesson was on the grammar points of used to V, [get] used to V-ing and [be] used to V-ing. There’s a lot more about those grammar points and about how I presented them in the lesson, but I’ll stick to one point, not immediately related to language.

Towards the end of the lesson, in order to bring the grammar points out of the textbook into real life, I showed a photo of me aged 13, in a soccer uniform and holding two trophies (won by the team), and also a real-life smaller trophy (awarded to me, more about which later), and said “I used to play soccer”. I prompted questions: where, when etc. I then got them to talk to each other starting with the sentence patterns “In my country, I used to/didn’t use to …” and “When I first came to Australia, I wasn’t used to …”.

Inevitably, this made me think about my brief and largely accidental career as junior soccer player. I grew up in a small city in country Victoria and like most Australian boys was fanatical about Australian Rules Football, so I’m not sure how I got into playing junior soccer. I played both codes in the school ground, but there were no inter-school competitions in either. My three best friends were football players, but somehow my fourth-best friend coaxed me along to soccer practice. The local club had two under-12 teams, a good one and a very bad one. My friend was in the good team, but I was placed in the very bad team. To give you an idea of how bad, our best result was a 1-2 loss. I have blocked the memory of what our worst result was. I was the only player on the team who returned the next year to play in the under-14s.

The under-14 team was very, very good. We did not lose a regular competition match all year, won the local league and cup and our worst result was a 6-0 win. We regularly scored 10 goals, and in one match scored over 20. One player was in the state under-14 team, and two more in the state under-13s. Seven more were in the local combined representative team, leaving one player who wasn’t a representative player of any kind – me.

The next year promised to be even better, with only three of the players due to progress to under-16s, and several more good players due to progress from the under-12s, but my father accepted a job interstate and we moved during the summer. My new city had a senior competition, but no junior or school competitions. Before we moved, I attended the team’s awards night. Eight players were given medals for participation, and I thought ‘Oh, they’ve forgotten about me’. The next award was for ‘most improved‘ – me. That’s a nice way to refer to the worst player on the team. (The other trophies were for runner up and best and fairest.) I’ve still got the trophy (I keep things like that), and showed it to the students in Tuesday night’s class.

But it almost didn’t happen, either for the team or for me. The first few practices were under a coach who no-one liked. He quit, and the father of two of the players took over. Maybe we would have won anyway under the original coach, but certainly not by as much, and we certainly wouldn’t have been as happy about it. For the first few practices, there were 12 players, and I certainly wouldn’t have got a regular position in the team. Then the star centre-forward accidentally broke the goal-keeper’s arm in practice, another player became goal-keeper and there I was in the team for the whole year.

This blog is not necessarily about language, and apart from the bit about the CELTA class, I haven’t mentioned it, but there is a connection. The 11 players on the team came from at least 5 different countries. I was probably the only player born in Australia, I was certainly the only one whose parents were born here (let alone grandparents, great-grandparents, most great-great-grand-parents and some great-great-great-grandparents, from 1855). Two were born in the UK, and eight were born in other European countries. I’m not sure exactly which ones; at the time, I assumed that the coach and his sons were Italian, but I later encountered the same surname as typically Maltese. The point is that I never heard any player speaking a language other than English, not even to their parents before or after matches. Maybe they spoke the other languages at home, but they certainly didn’t in public.

In fact, that year, possibly a quarter of my high school class were from non-English speaking backgrounds, and I never heard any of them speaking in any other language, or even saying that they spoke any other language at home. This was just after the Australian government’s official policy was changed from ‘assimilation‘ to ‘multiculturalism’ (not that we were aware of that at the time), but my teammates and classmates didn’t speak English because of government policy – they either chose to, or were told by their parents, “You’re in Australia now; speak English”.

The flip side of this is that I only speak English, apart from pleasantries in various languages, and basic Korean. The question is, though: what language does an English-speaking Aussie child learn? My two older sisters learned French through high school, but we moved interstate before I was due to start that. Learning French in country Victoria seemed a bit pointless. My second high school had various short-term electives, including a local Aboriginal language, but there were so many other electives which interested me more. My third high school had German, but I was there only for my final year of high school, and it was impossible to pick it up at that point, even if I’d wanted to.

So, here I am, solidly monolingual.  Maybe I’ll learn more Korean at some point, but I’ll certainly never be fluent.Soccer photo


2 thoughts on ““I used to play soccer”

  1. The National Curriculum currently has listed Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Modern Greek, Spanish, and Vietnamese. From memory, the first four they rolled out were French, German, Indonesian, and Italian. Or Chinese. I can’t really remember.

    Here in SA, the most common languages for primary schools seem to be German, Italian, Indonesian, and Chinese; while high schools are usually German, French, Chinese, and Japanese. Greek Orthodox schools teach Greek all the way through, while it’s mostly Catholic schools which offer Italian in high school.

    Usually the language taught in primary school directly corresponds to the history of the area: my primary school, which taught Italian, was in a very Italian area and most of my classmates had Italian surnames. In the Hills, most primary schools teach German. Schools which don’t really have a local heritage often choose Indonesian, as our closest neighbour.

    The whole question of what the second language should be is a tricky one. We don’t have any close neighbours. Unlike New Zealand, we don’t have a single indigenous language. Our most-spoken minority languages are pretty much tied for numbers. The languages traditionally taught to English-speaking children (French and Latin) are considered next to useless.

    I am of the opinion that primary schools should teach AUSLAN, for a couple of reasons.
    One is that, unlike most countries, we have no common second language. In America, most children learn Spanish, while in Canada and England, most children learn French. In Australia, if three children go to three different primary schools, chances are they’re learning three separate languages. AUSLAN is an Australian language spoken nationwide.
    Another reason is that children like learning sign language. I’d hazard saying that most children graduate from primary school knowing just as much AUSLAN as they do whatever language they were meant to be learning. Why not teach children a language they’re interested it?
    If children can solidly learn a second language in primary school, they might be more interested in learning another in high school; unlike now, when children hate primary school language lessons and don’t give high school ones a good go. A language is a language, even if it’s not verbal.


  2. I did not know the details of your illustrious soccer career, but I do remember that photo.
    I would not have thought there were that many “non-Australian” families in that small country town.
    Josh has learnt French for two 1/2 years at one school; Indonesian for three years at the next school (although it was only taught by the classroom teacher on a very ad hoc basis), I don’t think any language was taught at the next school; and then he did Mandarin Chinese for three years at this school. He did extremely well considering he did not learn it throughout primary school!
    Emily has only learnt Chinese since moving to this current school half-way through grade 1 – we partly chose this campus because they offered Chinese.


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