CHL Student Buzz: Meet James Turner…

7th April 2021

Student, Tetum Language Program

What do farm animals, a Postie and Tetum have in common? Interest! And that’s all you need when it comes to learning a language, especially at the ANU School of Culture, History & Language (CHL), where you can learn a wide range of languages online with a classroom feel. That’s what James decided to do when he chose to study Tetum, one of CHL’s less commonly taught languages, because he simply wanted to learn the language. He believes people get too caught up in thinking that they ‘just can’t learn another language’, and he doesn’t quite know where this notion comes from!

“The phrase I love the most? Rai-doben! It means ‘beloved land’. It is a poetic way of referring to Timor-Leste, and once you start your journey into learning Tetum and become immersed in Timorese culture, Rai-doben really takes a hold on you, and those words end up meaning a lot!”

1. Tell us a bit about yourself—what you do currently and what you studied or are studying.

I live in Tocumwal, NSW, on a small farm property with my partner and many animals. I work in a neighbouring town as a Postie! Last year I finished Tetum 3 and 4, offered through ANU/OUA.

2. What drew you to Tetum?

I grew up hearing about Timor a lot in the 90s and throughout the period of occupation. When I was old enough, I decided to visit. I was 20 when I first visited in 2011 and started taking my first steps in learning Tetum. I ended up living in Dili, Baucau and Ermera for a bit, just over a year. Lots of different experiences. I have spent a fair bit of time living in Darwin, and there is a large Timorese community there, so there were always opportunities to keep up my language skills. I had been interested in Tetum at ANU for a while, but it was harder to study it externally at the time. I enrolled in Tetum 3 last year, and it really helped me formalise my language skills, so I continued with Tetum 4 and I really appreciate having a lot more of an understanding of the rules and structure that I kind of lacked previously!

3. What are your top 3 favourite things about your language program at ANU?

The ANU Tetum language program offers so much flexibility. Having the classes online makes it much more accessible for students around Australia. Secondly, lecturer support is amazing. Senora Adelaide is a wealth of knowledge and is approachable for any questions you have about the language or aspects of Timorese culture and history. And of course, the other students…learning a language is a social and engaging process, getting to flesh out your language with the other students is great fun and bonding.

4. Can you name 3 reasons for people to study Tetum?

Tetum is fun, seriously. Tetum is a natural lingua-franca—it is used as a common language between speakers from different language and cultural groups, so you’re constantly learning something new. People are keen to share their culture and stories with you (seriously, storytelling is an art in Timor-Leste) and listen to yours in return. If you learn enough Tetum even just for a simple conversation, you’ll both end up smiling by the end of it.

Secondly, it comes with a lot of shortcuts too; you’ll notice a lot of cognates or words that convey similar meanings to ones you might already be familiar with. Tetum has a rich vocabulary derived from a wide source of languages! Another reason to learn the language is that it’s important for our future. Australia needs to have people knowledgeable in the languages and cultures of the region we inhabit. I think it’s just respectful.

5. How does it help, or has it helped, you in your profession or in life?

Ah, hugely! I met my partner in Timor, so I guess that is a pretty big one! Tetum is kind of a surprise gift, you never know when it will come in handy. I meet a few seasonal workers around the region from Timor, and it is always fun having a yarn, or sorting out the on-forwarding of their parcels to their next workplace. There are more and more opportunities now for people with knowledge of Timor-Leste, and obviously Tetum—the Seasonal Worker Programme and the Pacific Labour Solution are the most obvious to me. Professionally, I haven’t soared the career ladder yet, but I’ll get back to you when I do!

6. Can you share one fascinating or fun fact about Tetum, or something you find particularly incredible about the language?

Too many to count! I do like that you can be quoted the price for an object in three different languages, or a mix of two. So as a bonus you’ll inevitably pick up bits of Portuguese or Indonesian to add to your own linguistic repertoire.

7. What are your future plans with respect to Tetum or any other language?

I’d obviously like to see more people learning the language, so I am always keen to help others—just ask! Many Australian schools are now offering immersion/cultural trips to their graduating seniors. I think it’s a great opportunity for young people to get to know one of our closest neighbours.

I have offered crash-course lessons to the local high school here for their immersion trip, which sadly had to be postponed due to the current travel restrictions, so the lessons didn’t go ahead unfortunately! I’d like to get involved in that kind of stuff, at the community level.

8. Anything else you’d like to share? An interesting anecdote about your study of the language perhaps?

People get too caught up in thinking that they ‘just can’t learn another language’, I don’t quite know where it comes from! Maybe from our schooling system. The first steps are always the hardest, but there are more opportunities now than ever before—sometimes you just have to push yourself to get past those mental roadblocks. Don’t take yourself too seriously, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. We’re all human.

Want to learn Tetum? What are you waiting for? Take the first step! Enquire now!

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Tags: Tetum, Language, OUA

Updated:  7 July 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, Culture, History & Language/Page Contact:  CHL webmaster