Wednesday, January 1, 2014

30 December 2013 - Lea, the Art Historian in Verona

Armed with a 24 hr Verona card, today was chasing around the sights. As it happens its Monday and nothing opens until 1:30pm so we were somewhat compressed. The churches were open however (good Catholics), so we viewed some of the more notables like San Zeno, where I found some nearly 1,000 year old graffiti and San Fermo before hitting the Arena. Had to do the Julie playing Juliette thing as well of course (or maybe not!)
Arena at night

Later in the evening we were wandering aimlessly and came across a local art exhibition. There was absolutely no one there other than the young attendant, in contrast to the more notable sites we had been to. Lea, the attendant turned out to be an art history graduate who was currently teaching art. We immediately had a connection as Julie also studied and taught art. The building we were in was an ancient courthouse and later the Mayors quarters.

There were frescoes on the walls of one room…being renovated of course. In fact one of Lea’s friends was doing some of the touching up. She was also interested in restoration, a big industry over here!. Her speciality was more the moulding/plastering.
Lea explaining Frescoe wall preparation to Julie

Like many of her peers and like the young ski instructor I met, she was looking to go to London to improve her English skills, which we thought were pretty good anyway.

Side-Bar – The blessing of being born English speaking.

As English has become the dominant language across the world and more especially in the business world, I am eternally grateful that I was born English speaking. I spent 6 years in high school studying French, but even then at the end of it could barely string a sentence together let alone understand what a native French speaker was saying to me. I recall on our first trip to France down on the Riviera I called into an information booth to get a local map. The attendant refused to speak English and wanted me to speak French to her…they can be pretty arrogant to the English speakers in that area. I called on my best halting French with some effort. She immediately slapped down the map in front of me….she knew what I wanted all the time!

In my lecturing I am regularly teaching non-native English speakers from Asia, the Middle East, Scandinavia, South America and Eastern Europe as well. The Scandinavians from Denmark, Sweden and Norway are excellent, as are students from Hong Kong. Chinese students are known to be very studious. However I found that they often preferred to have the online notes than to attend the lectures (though they usually did out of respect, but never interacted in class discussions). I could tell from their emails that they were working well into the night. Clearly they were doing twice the work of a native English speaker, having to tediously translate their work, while at the same time trying to avoid being seen to plagiarise. I can see how tempting it is for a non-English speaker to “borrow” a good turn of a phrase that they might find in the literature. I would often say to them that I know that in their minds they have some real insights and that they should try to share them in their own words, no matter how bad the English might be (of course this made my job harder in assessing, but plagiarism risks are much worse). I felt their frustration….”so much to say…but no way to say it”.

Language also strongly dictates whom we connect with. We will always prefer to connect with people we find it easy to communicate with. Even in my classes I could see the cliques formed around shared language. Mostly this is a good thing as they can help each other. Sometimes not so good if they are sharing a wrong interpretation or understanding of what is required. Networks aren’t selective. They will propagate both good and bad information with the same effectiveness. Rumours are different however, they travel the fastest!

A few years ago Julie and I enjoyed our first real cruise holiday down the Dalmatian coast. We were with cruising veterans, Julie’s sister Kerrie, husband David and their daughter Katrina. The Cruise line was French and therefore the majority of passengers French. Over the period of a week we found ourselves gravitating toward the small English-speaking enclave. We even found some common connections around Wollongong, where Julie and Kerrie grew up and Kerrie still lives. It was my time to experience being part of the language minority. Language can have a big effect on our networking patterns. This is why the social networking sites are so powerful as it gives the non-native English speakers the time to ingest and compose English language discussion interactions. And this is the same for e-learning and why online learning will also help bridge the language gap.

Social Network Update

New and old connections

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