An Australian ecolinguist: Arabic and Farsi

How do you start a conversation in your language? How do you make a friend?
How do you start a conversation in your language? How do you make a friend?

Kris Broholm from the Actual Fluency Podcast told me I had to listen to this episode. It features Marcus Furness, an Australian language enthusiast and Masters student from Tasmania, Australia. His language-learning is focused on his community, especially on recent refugee and immigrant arrivals, so he focuses a lot on Arabic and Farsi. I listened and I strongly recommend it to my readers.

The similarities between Marcus and me, as Kris probably noticed, are uncanny. Marcus is a true ecolinguist.

Learning others’ stories

Marcus is a humble language learner even though he has managed to get his Arabic to B1-B2 level without ever leaving his home country. In addition, his Farsi is conversational, which impressed me. I was learning Farsi at one point, and I had a hard time making progress.

The two of us also share a love of classical languages. He studied Greek and Latin in college, and I did my graduate degree in Ancient Hebrew. He enjoys learning the grammar of languages, as I do.

Ultimately, though, racking up languages or becoming a language guru do not motivate him. He strives to learn the stories of people he encounters. He loves how speaking a little bit of the language opens people up to tell him about themselves. Learning about them and their lives allowed them become friends.

He has a great method by concentrating on phrases to use with the people he talks to every day. For example, he memorized how to talk about the reasons for learning the language and about the basic topics appropriate to interacting in the park. He can introduce himself and talk about the weather. For example, he picked fruit from his garden and then gave it to a friend in the park. He learned how to explain in Persian how he gathered the fruit and why he wanted to present it as a gift.

No town is too small for ecolinguism

Living in a small town can be a language-blessing in disguise. Because he lives in outside of the major areas of Australia, he said that he didn’t have the fortune to have large language communities around him. Instead, he had to befriend folks from the small group of Persian and Arabic speakers around him. This means he doesn’t get to use introductions often.

As a result of seeing the same people over and over, he developed strong, deep relationships with them. I can’t imagine a better situation—or outcome.

This isn’t unique to Tasmania. If I look at my home town of Lincoln, Nebraska, I see some cool possibilities. It’s slightly larger than Greater Hobart, Tasmania, and about as easy to get to. I learned from this article, that Lincoln has a foreign-born population of 7.4% or 19,000 people. A lot of them are Iraqi, Iranian, and Sudanese, so one could speak a lot of Arabic and Farsi there, too.

The point is that you can find immigrants in a lot of medium-sized cities. Ecolinguistic pursuits can exist in more places than you think.

I love to read about someone learning the languages of those around him, even in an area one does not consider particularly “multilingual.” I hope to hear more about Marcus’s pursuits.

Did you hear me, Kris and Marcus?

Who are the people in your community you like to speak with? What languages do you use in your community?

Photo credit: Robert S. Donovan via / CC BY-NC


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