Page 3614 - Week 10 - Wednesday, 13 September 2017

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Aussie friends and as we became more immersed in Australian life, but that it was important we did not forget our first language. Each day, my sister and I would dutifully write our page in neat Korean script about who we had played with at school or the homework we had to do, and, on one occasion, there was excitement because we had purchased our very first microwave. Gradually, these beautifully written Korean pages started to contain one, then two words of English, then a sentence in English, and before too long more than half a page would be in English.

My parents were right. English came naturally to us and today it is the language that I am most comfortable with. But what the habit of writing in a diary in Korean did was to make sure we did not forget our first language. Because we maintained at least this base level of Korean, we were and are able to communicate better with our parents. We are able to appreciate traditional myths and legends from thousands of years ago that resonate with life lessons of today. We are able to contribute to Australian multicultural society in a way that allows Aussies from a Western background to see that Asian Aussies have a lot to contribute to making Australia great. We are able to preserve the unique language created by King Sejong of the Joseong dynasty in the 1400s that gave us the ability to speak our own tongue, the language of my ancestors, that I can pass on to the next generation.

Learning a second language has enormous benefits, not just to the person learning it but to our society and our economy. UNESCO’s Mother Language Day is celebrated on 21 February because “language is fundamental to communication of all kinds, and it is communication that makes change and development possible in human society”.

We live in a global world that is connected more than ever, and whilst it can be easy for Canberrans who speak only English—which, according to the 2016 census, was over 70 per cent—to take for granted that they speak the generally accepted international language, there is a lot that these Canberrans can gain from learning a second language. If they do, it does not mean they will forget their mother language; it means they will learn a new way of communicating with the world and they will learn to value and respect their own mother language.

I love that there are words in Korean which do not quite translate simply into English—words that express an emotion, a feeling, a circumstance or a meaning that does not exist as a word in English. I do not have to look far for some great examples. My Korean name is “Seul-gi”, which roughly translates to “wisdom” or “to be wise”. The Korean name of my middle sister, Rosa, is “Bo-ram” which means “fruitful” or “to be of worth”. The Korean name of my youngest sister, Sara, is “Sae-rom”, which means new life or new beginning. This has a particular meaning in my family because Sara was born in Australia when we started a new life here.

The relationship between Korea and Australia is an important one. We have a free trade agreement which has cemented one of the strongest and most complementary economic relationships in our region. Korea is the fourth largest export market for Australian goods and services and in 2016 the Korean market was worth a total of $32 billion in trade for Australia.

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