To kick off 2022, Flinders University has appointed two new Language lecturers, Dr Stefano Bona for Italian and Tom Power for Indonesian. Coming from very different backgrounds, Stefano and Tom show how there are many pathways and opportunities available when speaking a second or even third language fluently. Time for an introduction!
Dr Stefano Bona
Being an Italian native speaker, Stefano is the perfect example of why speaking further languages can lead to a wide range of opportunities in life. Having learned Mandarin while completing his Masters in Political Science in Milan, Stefano was able to secure a job with an Italian company based in Shanghai. After working in the video production space for a few years, he followed his partner to Adelaide and had to rethink his career trajectory.
Answering a question on where he sees himself in 10 years during an interview, Stefano realised where his passion lies. “I really wanted to open a school of Italian.” He decided to return to university, took up a Masters in Language Studies at Flinders and started teaching Italian on the side. Tying together his past experiences, Stefano did his PhD in Italian cinema, researching how Italian filmmakers made feature films in mainland China after 1949.
“I didn’t open that Italian school but I still got to teach my native language and culture 16,000 kilometres away from home. Speaking other languages has given me flexibility I otherwise wouldn’t have had. Learning languages changes lives and creates opportunity.”
After studying Indonesian at high school for five years, Tom took the opportunity to live with a homestay family in Semarang on the north coast of Central Java at the end of year 11. Surrounded by language and culture, his passion for the country was ignited. Fast forward two years and Tom found himself teaching English at 14 schools around the province during a gap year from his undergraduate studies.
“I spent a year working for the Educational Department in Central Java. That was when I really cemented my interest in learning more about Indonesia and, of course, my language skills improved a great deal, living in the country for an extended period of time.”
Back in Australia, Tom finished his studies, consolidating what he had learned and also spent more time in Indonesia. He was finally brought to teaching at the tertiary level through a combination of his experience as a TESOL teacher in Indonesia, his interest in research and his family having an education background.
With his strong interest in politics, social change and social dynamics, Tom wrote his thesis on “Political parties in opposition and government” and has published several journal articles, one of which helped shape the conversation around specific aspects of Indonesian democracy. “Feeling like I have contributed something new through my research is really rewarding to me.”
Teaching the culture, not just the language
Both Tom and Stefano emphasise how important it is to immerse yourself in the culture of the language you are learning to fully reap the benefits. Passionate about passing on the knowledge they’ve gained themselves, they hope to assist students in combining that knowledge of the country with knowledge of the language.
“I think that really you have to have language contextualised right to make it worthwhile. If you only know a language but you don’t know much about the society or many other people who speak it, then what is its value in practical terms? Particularly when we’re talking about a place that has a relatively limited cultural footprint in Australia such as Indonesia”, Tom points out.
Tom loves inspiring students. “I’ve had students who started off with a relatively limited interest in Indonesia or Southeast Asian politics and studies. Seeing them progress over multiple semesters to the point where they have a genuine interest in the subject and become very capable speakers of Indonesian or very knowledgeable about specific aspects of the field – that’s really rewarding, sparking that passion.”
Stefano adds “It’s impressive how fluent students become in just three years and can express themselves across a wide range of topics. I had a student working as a truck driver who decided to start learning Italian from scratch, all because he wanted to visit Italy. He was always very enthusiastic and put 100% into his learning. Today he writes wonderful short articles in authentic Italian language and once the pandemic is over, he would like to become a tour guide in Italy. His interest in Italian culture, the way of life and his willingness to experiment with language made him achieve extraordinary results.”