Today is my last day as an English language teacher, after more than eleven and a half years at a language college, provincial government high school and university in South Korea and language colleges in Australia. I am making this move for a wide variety of reasons, related to the ESL sector in general (an Australian student visa requires attendance at classes for 20 hours per week, so most teachers are engaged for 20 hours per week, and there is very little opportunity to advance to a full-time position), the college and colleagues (some classes at some colleges are run as courses – the students start at the same time, do the course, and finish at the same time, but our English classes have been ‘start and finish when you need to’, and I’ve had to share a small office with up to four other people of various degrees of loudness in various languages, as student of various degrees of loudness in various languages come and go), the students (who have different levels of English, life experience and personal and study backgrounds, some of whom attend way less than 20 hours per week, and come and go, use their phone, chat in their own language or sleep when they are there), and myself (basically, dealing with all of the above, and commuting).
Through English language teaching, I’ve lived in South Korea for two periods totalling three and a half years, met my wife, travelled to Hong Kong and Japan, met all kinds of other people in South Korea and Australia, gained my masters degree (and may yet go on to doctoral study), attempted to learn Korean (하지만 아직 잘 못 해요), developed a serious hobby of photography and started this blog. On the other hand, I’ve had to largely give up my other serious hobby of classical choral singing. (I can and will return to that, but it remains to be seen whether I will ever again perform at my peak.) So now it’s time for a change. From tomorrow …
(long but hopefully interesting) The Nepean and Hawkesbury Rivers circle the Sydney metropolitan area and surrounding countryside to the south-west, west, north-west and north. I live in a suburb on the banks of the Nepean and last weekend went photo-hiking to four lookouts about 20 minutes’ drive south of here, in the small part of the greater Blue Mountains National Park east of the river. An online friend from Canada commented “Your Nepean is a lot more photogenic than ours” – “ours” being a major suburban centre of Ottawa, Ontario.
The former British colonies, big and small, are strewn with names commemorating places and people from Great Britain and Ireland, alongside names from other colonial powers (most notably Spain, France and the Netherlands) and indigenous names. Canada and Australia both have a Sydney and a Nepean. (And a Toronto – Australia’s Toronto has a population of about 5000; Canada’s Toronto … doesn’t.)
Yesterday I went driving, exploring and photographing in part of what some of my students call Blue Mountain, and what I insist on calling the Blue Mountains. There’s no place in Australia called Blue Mountain, but there are genuine linguistic reasons why some of my students (and, I guess, many others) change the Blue Mountains to Blue Mountain. Many languages do not have the equivalent of English a and the, and many speakers of English as a second language just aren’t used to saying those two English words. Many languages also do not have the equivalent of English plural s (or, as in Korean, it may be optional). English plural s often makes a double, triple or even quadruple consonant cluster with the final consonant(s) – here ns, which many second language speakers find difficult and want to simplify.
The Blue Mountains cover a large area, and people usually go to only a very small part of them. The officially defined geographic area covers 11,400 km2, almost as large as the Sydney metropolitan area (12,367 km2) and larger than 37 sovereign states. The local government area and the state electorate are, respectively, the City of Blue Mountains and the Electoral district of Blue Mountains, respectively.
And they aren’t blue. The sun filtering through evaporated eucalyptus oil gives the scenery a very slightly blueish tinge, but the trees are otherwise green and the rocks brown. I hope tourist books explain that.
The same linguistic issues arose when a student told me that she’d gone to Southern ’Ighland (viz, the Southern Highlands) the previous weekend. This sounded either like Southern Island (there is no Southern Island anywhere in the physical world) or (in my non-rhotic pronunciation) Southern Ireland (ooooh, a lot of Irish history and politics there).
[edit 6 Oct: after I posted on Facebook about another photo-hike to the Blue Mountains, an online friend from Canada told me that there is a Blue Mountain in Ontario (the name of the mountain and a ski resort), as well as nearby town named ‘The Blue Mountains‘.]
(PS I don’t like giving any free publicity to corporate entities, but in this case it’s impossible not to.)
Some years ago (soon after I returned from Korea the first time, I think), I bought a quiz game made by a company called BrainBox. The shop had several in stock, but the one which I bought was of the countries of the world, which seemed most applicable to English language classes.
I have used it several times a year since. On Tuesday I was browsing through a local shop and saw another game from the same company, about Australia. I went back and bought it on Thursday morning and used it that evening in class.