CHL Student Buzz: Meet Anne Junor…

Anne J

She’ll be 80 next year. She’s two years into the Vietnamese Language Program at ANU. And she’s now prepping for a third year of study. Anne Junor is the epitome of inspiration, proving that there is no age to learn. With her life experience and her zest for education to broaden her cultural perspectives, Anne is hooked to language study now, and doesn’t intend to look back.

"I love turning on the Vietnamese subtitles when I watch TV series or movies on my phone—for example I had great fun watching The Crown with subtitles and seeing members of the Royal Family swear in Vietnamese!."

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

At the age of 79, I am probably one of the oldest people to have enrolled in the Vietnamese language program at the ANU School of Culture, History & Language. I have now completed two years of Vietnamese study as a non-award student and am looking forward eagerly to beginning the first session of the third year course at the end of this month. In the first year course, which I studied in 2019, I was amongst a number of other students who were not of Vietnamese descent, but by the end of second year, all the other students in the class were ‘Người Úc gốc Việt’ (Australians with Vietnamese origins). I greatly admired these clever and sophisticated younger students for their desire to reconnect with their cultural and linguistic heritage, and for their warmth and patience to me as a mature-aged student who spoke halting Vietnamese with a rather weird accent.

2. What drew you to Vietnamese?

I have had a long association with Vietnamese people in Australia, dating back to the early 1960s, when the first Vietnamese Colombo Plan students arrived in Australia, and there were under 2,000 people of Vietnamese ancestry in the country. I think it is wonderful how former Colombo Plan students who came to Australia and New Zealand between 1956 and 1974, many of whom have had distinguished careers, kept in contact with each other over the years. In 1995 they formed the Vietnam Foundation (VNF) to work on a voluntary basis on development projects in remote rural areas of Viet Nam.

Apart from that, what’s not to love about Vietnamese food, music, art and literature, and connecting with networks of Vietnamese people across Australia, North America, and Europe? There is even a Vietnamese community in Iceland, speaking Icelandic, a language I studied in my first undergraduate degree at Sydney University in the early 1960s.

3. What were your top 3 favourite things about your language course?

The ANU Vietnamese language course is sensationally creative, interesting and challenging. We are presented with a wide variety of contemporary material. One week it may be an episode from a soap opera currently running on Vietnamese TV, with very comical and inventive slang. Another week it may be a televised interview or debate with a social justice theme.

The assignments are interactive and great fun—whether it is a class debate, a response to song lyrics, a frank discussion of sources of culture shock, an exciting virtual tour of travel locations off the beaten track in Viet Nam, or the requirement to produce a YouTube video in Vietnamese. Each assignment seems at first to be a huge challenge, but turns out to be doable, resulting in a satisfying sense of achievement. The reading and listening material captures everyday life—everything from family quarrels about pocket money, eating junk food or living with in-laws; through bargaining in shops, ordering in restaurants, workplace interactions, to sorting out bungled travel arrangements, and dealing with medical emergencies. And as well as the everyday, more quickly than I would have thought possible, I found myself starting to be able to appreciate the emotional nuances of really beautiful literature.

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

Firstly, I believe (if my figures are still accurate) that Vietnamese is the language of just under 1 percent of the Australian population, and is the sixth most commonly spoken language here. I strongly believe that it is of great importance to keep that cultural heritage alive, and I wish there were more bilingual schools in Australia. Every Vietnamese family in this country has a rich store of memories, photographs, documents and stories, and it is vital to preserve and interpret this heritage.

Secondly, Viet Nam is an increasingly important economic and political power in the Asia Pacific, so it makes sense to have fluency in a significant regional language. Having even an elementary knowledge of another language, particularly one from outside the Indo-European family, provides an alternative way of thinking about the world, and also shows just how much we see in similar ways. Being monolingual is a type of handicap: it is really beneficial to learn to think outside one’s linguistic comfort zone. As a former teacher and academic, it was not till I participated in Vietnamese classes that I gained an insight into just how hard it must be for international students to pick up the rapid, colloquial, nuanced language of an Australian classroom.

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

Most Australian workplaces are multi-ethnic, but not all are multicultural. I think that in any workplace, knowing another language is a source of enhanced awareness of one’s own impacts and a source of deeper level of cooperation and flexible thinking.

As a sociologist, I greatly enjoyed assignments where we translated Vietnamese foundational myths and folk stories. These stories have many interpretations—for example, the story of the descent of Vietnamese people from the 100 children of the union and separation of a dragon lord Lạc Long Quân and a mountain fairy Âu Cơ. Taking 50 children each, the parents agreed to return to their true calling (he of teaching coastal people fishing and agriculture and she of being a travelling doctor in the highlands), but they promised always to come to the other’s aid whenever called. While scholars often interpret this story as a reconciliation between earlier matrilineal and later patrilineal traditions of inheritance, it can also be interpreted as a story of solidarity and mutual support, between people from the same ‘egg sac’ (đồng bào). This tradition of mutual support is reflected most recently in spontaneous donations of support for victims of the COVID-19 lockdown and the 2020 floods, via ‘happiness supermarkets’ and ‘rice ATMs’.

In my leisure time, as a form of relaxation, I find it great fun to play vocabulary word games using the various Vietnamese language apps available. It is a great way of whiling away journeys on public transport or while driving. I particularly enjoy the fact that, not only are there interesting Vietnamese language movies on SBS on Demand and You Tube, but very many Netflix movies come with Vietnamese subtitles.

6. Can you share one fascinating/fun fact about Vietnamese/something you find particularly incredible about the language?

The thing I love most about the Vietnamese language is its expressive, metaphorical and musical nature. It is full of word play, with many alliterative and rhyming word pairs, used for emphasis or irony. Somehow doing the housework seems more energetic and fun when called ‘dọn dẹp’ (pronounced ‘zon zep’ in the North, yon yep’ in the South). As in English, ‘sạch nhách’ can mean either ‘completely clean’ or ‘all cleaned out, no more money’. A street described as ‘rộn rịp’ sounds as if it is really bustling and busy. Somehow declaiming ‘Trời ôi!’ seems more dramatic than saying ‘heavens above!’

I have also really enjoyed learning some of the colourful Vietnamese folk sayings, such as: ăn cướp cơm chím (‘stealing the food of birds—conveying the idea that taking away their livelihood will damage poor people without benefiting the rich); Mèo khen mèo dài đuôi (a cat praising its own tail, describing a person whose pride is based on ignorance); có đi mới đến; có học mới hay (only by going can one arrive; only by studying can one know).

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

After two years, I can’t stop now: I am hooked on trying to acquire the language fluently. I am starting to be able to read Vietnamese poetry and short stories. By the end of this year, I hope to tackle the class epic poem Truyện Kiều, the story of the beautiful and learned lady (symbolic of Vietnam) who resolutely faced the cruel blows of fate, sacrificing herself for her family. Every Vietnamese person seems to be able to quote lines from this poem.

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

I love turning on the Vietnamese sub-titles when I watch TV series or movies on my phone. For example, I had great fun watching The Crown with subtitles and seeing members of the Royal Family swear in Vietnamese!

If you’ve always wanted to learn Vietnamese but thought you were too late, Anne’s story would have definitely inspired you—it’s never too late, but why wait? Not sure where to begin? Enquire now!

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