Breaking through language barriers

First published in The Australian 5 September 2012

Alex Murphy Alex Murphy
UTS:INSEARCH Managing Director

I'd always wanted to learn a language because I was interested in engaging with other cultures.

I'd been to the US and Britain, but when I was 16 I went to Indonesia to do a summer school at a university in central Java. It included learning batik, the martial arts, and language studies while living in the university dormitories. I just loved it. I started my arts degree at Sydney University in 1980 following a gap year. I enrolled in linguistics and Indonesian and Malayan studies.

Sydney had by far the most influential and esteemed Indonesian department in Australia at the time. And I was drawn to Sydney because of its reputation and status. I ended up doing honours in linguistics. My thesis was on the Indonesian language looking at a particular grammatical phenomenon. I was using analysis around socio-linguistics and semiotics, so there was an anthropological dimension to it. It was looking in a detailed way how the language was structured around causation. It was a little bit inaccessible. I got first-class honours and on the back of that was awarded a scholarship to do a PhD, which I didn't end up completing. I'd gone to Indonesia to do some research but opted out of the PhD and ended up living there.

I lost my passion for academic pursuit. I was doing the PhD mainly because I'd been given a scholarship and had a very noteworthy supervisor. His name was Michael Halliday and he was considered a guru in the area of grammatical research. So I ended up doing a bit of soul-searching about where I wanted to go in life.

At the time I was living in Jakarta with an Indonesian family. They didn't speak English so I was really immersed in that world, but I was also engaging with the expat and diplomatic communities. I ended up living in Indonesia for three years, mainly teaching English.

When I finally came back, I took a at job at Macquarie and then at UTS:INSEARCH teaching Indonesian. But I started moving up the ladder and became more involved in marketing and management. Up until about seven years ago, Indonesians used to be our biggest single cohort at Insearch, then China started to emerge. At the same time, Indonesia started to decline, but it's on its way back up again. The emerging middle class have the funds to educate their children overseas.

Previously most of our Indonesian students were of Chinese descent, but now we are seeing a range of ethnic groups. We are also in the process of setting up a series of language programs in Indonesia with the Kompas Gramedia Group. They have a network of language schools, a private university, TV station and newspapers.

As told to Julie Hare from The Australian.

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Serena Learning a foreign language is difficult but learning and then teaching a foreign language can be something else: more difficult, challenging and complex :) It was great reading about Alex and his journey with languages. Thanks for sharing this.
Expect Perfection Indonesian language is more like all East Asian nations languages and difficult one to learn. Any way learning a new language always a hell bent of a task. But you can learn if you are really want to! Well...thanks for sharing your journey!

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