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The Australian National University proudly offers the widest range of Asian and Pacific languages of any Australian university, taught by our expert staff in the School of Culture, History and Language.
Our courses in Hindi, Sanskrit, Tetum, Thai, Tibetan and Vietnamese were made available online through Open Universities Australia (OUA) in Semester One this year, enabling a new cohort of students to benefit from the world-class language teaching at ANU.
Associate Professor Tim Hannan is Head of the School of Psychology at Charles Sturt University, and is taking both Thai 1 and Vietnamese 1 this Semester. We recently spoke to him about his experiences.
You’re currently studying Vietnamese and Thai. What drew you to studying those languages, and what has your experience been like studying them?
My interest in Vietnamese and Thai has been both personal and professional. I have had a lifelong interest in Southeast Asian history and cultures, and travelling through the region has taught me that the best way to learn about a culture and to make new friends is to speak the language. More recently, my work as a psychologist has brought me opportunities to engage with academic and clinical colleagues in Southeast Asia, and I have been exploring how I and other Australians may contribute meaningfully to the development of the science and discipline of psychology in the region. Being able to have a conversation in a colleague’s language is a great way to start to build a professional relationship.
How have you found studying the languages online through the OUA platform?
The College of Asia and the Pacific at ANU offers the broadest range of Asian language courses in Australia, with many of these rarely (if ever) taught at university level. The initiative to offer these language programs online through OUA has given me (and many other students) a unique and invaluable opportunity to learn languages spoken in our part of the world.
The quality of the language courses is quite outstanding, and I have found that the weekly online interactive classes delivered by highly experienced teachers, supplemented by online materials and self-study, have made it possible to quickly learn the basics of these complex languages.
How have you found balancing language study with the other aspects of your life?
One of the best features of online courses is the flexibility to plan one’s studies around full-time work and other commitments. Learning a language requires time, repeated practice, and persistence – just like anything else worth doing. It is often said that thirty minutes of study every day is much more effective than one four-hour block per week, and I have found that to be good advice.
What has been the most surprising thing about studying Thai and Vietnamese?
While I had known that ANU’s expertise in Asia Pacific studies would ensure that the language courses were of the highest quality, I was surprised and delighted by the expertise and enthusiasm of the lecturers, whose dedication to their students is unparalleled. The courses are well structured, with engaging interactive classes, stimulating study materials, and practical assessments. The teachers also strive to ensure students develop an understanding of the history and culture of the respective countries, as well as assisting with learning some of the important but subtle aspects of communicating in the language, like how a mistake with a word’s tone can turn a simple request into an embarrassing encounter.
What advice would you give to potential students considering studying Asian languages?
Learning a new language is always a challenge, especially when it differs so markedly from our native tongue. Asian languages present the particular challenges of mastering different tones and phonologies, unfamiliar grammatical structures, vocabularies with little overlap with English words, and often a script that seems inaccessible at one’s first attempt. But the reward of being able to speak and listen to our neighbours in their language enables us to build and strengthen relationships, both personal and professional.
I am looking forward to continuing my online study of Thai and Vietnamese by undertaking further intermediate and advanced subjects, and as I am also keen to learn Sanskrit, I have my studies planned for years to come!