Exploring language choices in Parramatta 

In an interview conducted on a university student who regularly visits Parramatta, they mention that although they speak languages other than English (Cantonese); English was preferrably spoken in and around the suburb/area. Because most of the shops, restaurants and services are predominantly English speaking, they specifically chose to use this universal language to communicate with others while spending their time in Parramatta. However, it was noted that languages other than English were practiced because certain services or restaurants which cater toward a specific cultural group would be more suitable to use. Judging from this, language choice is heavily dependent on the context or group in which the individual is in. For instance, the interviewee mentioned that when they visit their local dentist, they speak Cantonese to better communicate with the dentists who were originally from Hong Kong.

The following is the transcript of the interview conducted on the university student:

What languages do you predominantly speak at home?

Mainly English and Cantonese

And do you speak English or Cantonese more often?

Depends on the person. Like if it’s with my parents, I will speak Cantonese but with my siblings I would speak English.

What about your friends who also speak Cantonese. Is English or Cantonese used?


Why is that?

I think it’s just easier to express my thoughts and ideas if I use English. There are some words or phrases I don’t know how to use properly or translate from English. Plus, English was my first language and so that’s what I mainly use around my friends. Sometimes, we would use Cantonese at school as a code language when we didn’t want other people to hear what we were talking about. That’s of course, if they also didn’t know Cantonese. We had to be very careful!

When you visit Parramatta, do you find yourself speaking English or Cantonese?

Probably English because nearly every store I walk into uses the English language.

Are there certain settings that prompt you to speak the Cantonese language at all?

So at my family dentist in Parramatta, we speak Cantonese to the staff and we do this because our mother also speaks Cantonese in this setting. Also in Asian restaurants, typically the people are not fluent in English and so it is much better to converse in Chinese as it is easier to communicate.

What other languages do you hear when you visit Parramatta? English is obviously spoken, but what other ones have you heard?

Chinese, Vietnamese and also Lebanese. There are probably more but that’s what I usually gather when I get around the trains of Parramatta.

In Parramatta, how do you feel about language diversity?

I think language diversity is excellent. Since Australia is seen and known for its multiculturalism, it is really fantastic to see many languages and cultures being practiced. It allows them to express their thoughts and feelings in their mother tongue which is something we all should be able to do. It’s a blessing to have so many languages being used in Australia because it just reinforces the idea that we are a multicultural country who enables freedom of speech whether that be in English or any other language/dialects.

Information collected by Elizabeth He


This is a verbatim transcript of an interview conducted with a friend (ER) who lives in Parramatta.


Hey man, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. I just want to start off by asking how long you’ve been living in Parra and what languages you speak.

No worries. I’ve been living here for about six years now and I can speak English and Chinese.


Mandarin or Canto?



Ah, cool, cool. So, and this might be a bit weird since we usually talk in English, but, in what type of situation would you rather communicate in English even if the person you’re talking to is proficient in Chinese?

I’ve never really thought about that. Well, majority of my Chinese friends are also fluent in English, whether it may be their first or second language. I would say most situations we would communicate in English over Chinese because we’re more comfortable with speaking English. Normally if a situation requires clear communication, like if I’m giving instructions, then it’s probably best to use English rather than Chinese. I feel like for most of my Chinese friends, their level of Chinese is at a very elementary level so any situation that requires a complex vocabulary, it’s better to just speak in English.


Fair enough. Why do you think you’d rather talk English in these situations? Like, not only for ease of communication but what social reasons do you think influence someone to choose to speak English?

This doesn’t apply to me but I believe that there may be a social pressure for ethnic groups to speak English in Australia so it doesn’t ostracize them from the predominant Aussie/white culture. I feel like this viewpoint may be more predominant in millennials rather than older generation ethnics, though.


Now for the opposite, in what situations would you rather communicate in Chinese? And again, why do you think you would prefer to talk in Chinese in these situations?

Reiterating from what I said before, most ABC (Australian-Born Chinese) teens have an elementary level of Chinese, plus a few cuss phrases. I personally think that communicating in Chinese sounds funny, it sometimes adds humour to the situation because most people don’t expect it. I guess it’s something you typically do around other ABCs or people that understand the phrase you’re about to say. You know, maybe you’re playing a card game or something and when you feel like you’re getting really bad luck, you start cussing in Chinese, lightening the situation and adding humour. It’s also nice to keep touch with your ethnic tongue, being 100% whitewashed isn’t always the best thing. And if you’re an ABC, I feel like you should be able to balance both English and Chinese no matter the level because it’s a language that I would want to pass onto my children in the future as well, if I ever end up having any [laughs]. Plus, I think being able to speak multiple languages is beneficial not only for socialising but also professional development.


Yeah, I remember watching you play mahjong a while back and hearing you swear in Chinese every couple of minutes [laughs]. I was thinking you’d probably speak Chinese with your family though, I’m pretty sure I heard you speak Chinese to your mum before.

Oh yeah, that’s true. Generally, yeah, I talk to family in Chinese but some specific stories and anecdotal phrases sound better and have a different meaning in Chinese. A lot of Chinese phrases also don’t have an equivalent English phrase. And I feel like a lot of culture and history would be lost if I didn’t speak Chinese with my family members, tying back to what I said before about wanting to pass the language down to my kids. I reckon that most Chinese grandparents would feel distraught that their heritage stops at their grandchild.


Alright, so we’re gonna move away from language choices to attitudes towards languages now. How do you feel about other people communicating in languages other than English and Chinese?

I think it’s great if people communicate in other languages, I believe knowing how to speak more than one language is a great skill to have. Regardless of the language, whether it may be English or Chinese, Australia presents itself as a multicultural country and so I think it’s important to allow people to express their culture in their own way, otherwise it would be a bit hypocritical to say Australia is multicultural.


More specifically, what about people communicating in languages other than English and Chinese on public transport like buses and trains?

I don’t really mind it, people should be allowed to speak the language they’re most comfortable with. I can imagine some people would be irritated at people speaking their ethnic tongue but it’s not like they’re breaking the law or anything. Sure, Australia may be an English-based country but the individuals that communicate via their ethnic tongue in public perhaps are international students, family visiting overseas, or whatever. So I personally don’t mind it, but I’ve been in situations where I can see some people being irritated if they spot another individual constantly communicating in their ethnic tongue and I think it’s petty to be annoyed at something like that.


I agree that it is petty to get mad at someone speaking a language other than English, or one that you’re not familiar with. Why do you think some people get annoyed though?

I don’t know, could be racist or something. Or they might just be really firm on the idea of Australia being an English-based country and not have had exposure to a lot of non-white cultures in Australia before.


Yeah, seems like that would usually be the case. So, I remember this time I was waiting for the 891 at Central and an old Chinese guy walked up to me to ask for directions or something. I couldn’t hear him properly and just assumed he spoke Chinese cause I’ve been asked for help in Chinese before. So I said something like “Sorry, I don’t speak Chinese. My friend might be able to help you.” and I gesture to my friend. She ends up helping the man and as we’re getting on the bus she says “I’m pretty sure that guy was speaking to you in English, not Chinese.” [laughs]. Anyways, that’s supposed to be a nice segue to my last question: If someone were to ask you for help on public transport in Chinese, would you reply in English or Chinese? Why?

[Laughs] Nice. I would ask if they understood English. If they did, then I’d communicate back in English because I wouldn’t want to have miscommunication. If they didn’t understand English and only understood Chinese, I’d reply in Chinese the best I can. The language I reply in would depend on which one I feel most comfortable with providing information and which one the individual understands better.


Fair. Thanks for your answers, man. You’ve given some really interesting responses.

All good, my dude. Glad to help.


Information collected by Kenneth Revadulla

Exploring language choices and attitudes in Parramatta 

An interview with a student who is originally from Afganistan who fled to Pakistan and then to Australia. She currently lives in a housing commission at the cusp of Guildford and Parramatta.

What language do you normally speak at home?

Normally I speak Hazaragi at home with my family, no one except for my sister is very good at English and she recently got married and so she’s going to move away from home soon.


When do you use English and why?

At school, I try to speak as much English as possible and because there are very few people who can speak Hazaragi it’s not too hard. Only one other person speaks it in year 12. I will also use English at Westfields because very few people speak it and one time I was speaking to my mum on the phone in Hazaragi and someone started yelling at me and spitting on the train when i was going home so now I try to only message people in my language. I also use English when we go to the doctors or anywhere like the bank because my mum can’t speak English so I have to translate for her if my older sister isn’t there. I try to encourage my younger sister (year 8) to also speak more English at home.


When do you use your language and why?

Mr X in science can sometimes understand my language and a bit of Dari so if I ever have problems in science, sometimes I see him to help me understand my work, otherwise I just use google translate. At the shops where we go to get food, my mum can speak Dari and I can also speak it a little bit so I speak that so we can get a discount(?) because the man who owns it was also a refugee. I use it at home with my family and with Hina at the Community Migrant Resource Center. I also speak it with my fiance but he also encourages me to speak as much English as possible. Sometimes if i’m speaking to my soccer friends in English and I don’t know a word I will also use Hazaragi.


How long have you been living in Parramatta for? Do you hear other languages?

I have been living in Parramatta for nearly 3 years now, I hear lots of other languages, even at school I hear lots of different languages like Arabic, Pashtun, Dari, Chinese, English, Hindi and much much more. I think Parramatta is good because there are lots of different peoples but it’s also very safe even though everyone is a bit different.


Do you mind if other people speak other languages that you can’t understand?

Miss, I can barely understand English of course I don’t mind! It’s very important that people keep their culture and where they are from in their families so I think it’s a good thing that people speak other languages as long as they aren’t doing it to be mean to other people. THat’s just rude, but if a shopkeeper can speak to someone in their own language I think they should. So everyone can have a little community.

Information collected by Emma Tang

Exploring language choices in Coogee 

This week was an interesting opportunity to interview at bus stops, complemented by surveying some fellow uni students to find out their attitudes and experiences with multilingualism.

At the main bus station near Coogee beach I spent a bit of time observing and interviewed an elderly Russian woman. Interestingly I approached another couple waiting for a bus, however they responded, “sorry no speak English. Russian.” This fits into our census findings for Coogee which says that Russian accounts for (1.6%) of the languages spoken in the area.

Firstly I asked her if she has a tendency to code-mix and she said that she prefers to speak either Russian or English. In her words “it is not good to mix.” However she did say that she regularly switches in the case when she speaks with her grandchildren, as she wants them to speak Russian but they prefer to speak English. However this goes against what I found in one of my surveys of a young Australian man who has a Finnish girlfriend. Interestingly his girlfriend is part of a small minority of Fins who speak Swedish, so they usually converse in Swedish together, however he said some Finnish words ‘feel right’ such as the Finnish word for what (mitä) which feels stronger than the Swedish equivalent (Vad). He explained that for Finnish people it is normal to speak a variety of languages.

This explains several things:

  • According to the Finnish example, it fits in with our studies that languages based on nation states, such as ‘Finnish,’ ‘Swedish’ or ‘English’ are not important and that rather people draw on their linguistic armor and use the skills at their disposal, based on company, topic, time and space to best communicate and convey their thoughts and feelings.
  • My Russian interviewee was in contrast to this line of thinking, however this may be more indicative of a view expressed by her generation, one that is changing. The ‘nation state- link to language’ may seem a lot more powerful for her than younger generations who through globalization and the internet, have managed to build up a broader language repertoire (albeit even polylanguaging without proficiency). One survey respondent said they like to use phrases and words of other language for ‘fun.’

When I asked my interviewee how people react to her speaking Russian she said that as she has been here for 38 years so her English is very good. However on public transport when speaking Russian she prefers to do so quietly and discretely, given the political angst and bad reputation Russian can have (especially now.) This is particularly interesting because my observations from using the train and buses was that most people aren’t afraid to use another language than English (on phones) and seem to do so without trying to hide it. Also the reactions I have gauged seem to be neutral or positive, nobody seems to be bothered by hearing other languages. In one of my surveys of a monolingual English speaking Australian she even said that she loves to hear other languages been spoken and will even turn off her headphones to listen.

This is indicative of several things:

  • For a Russian woman who came to Australia 38 years ago, and has lived through the Cold War Period she didn’t explicitly say she has had bad experiences, but would know that at times Russia has been much maligned in Australia.
  • Young people in Australia are curious about other languages and cultures, driven mostly by multiculturalism and globalization. Of the 6 surveys I did of Australian born young people (20-30 yrs) 5 of them speak or are learning other languages.

This heightened awareness of other languages and desire to learn is also facilitated by the internet. Even though internet provider (Anatoly Voronov) was adamant that the internet was post-imperialist and would see English dominate, it has actually led to other languages gaining traction and easier ways for people to engage in language learning (online language apps and chat groups). In my survey results several respondents said they have changed their phone language or computer language. However one bilingual speaker of English and Japanese says that due to Japanese having three alphabets she finds it easier to engage in English. This is indicative that the internet is playing a large role in the changing of language attitudes.

The last question I put to some people was what are their thoughts about the question, “where are you from?” I wasn’t very explicit in explaining what this meant so for most people they saw no issue. However for my Australian/Japanese respondent she said she hates being asked this an Australian born person of mixed descent.

All in all most of the findings were in tune with things we have looked at in class, as well as some interesting responses.

Information collected by Tasha Krasny


Exploring language choices and attitudes in Coogee 

What is your language background? Is English your first language?
I spent the majority of my childhood in Sweden.  Me and my siblings were all brought up in a Swedish only environment.  English was learnt through school teaching and media influences, so I would say I’m fluent in Swedish while English is my second language.

In what situation/context is English your preferred language of communication? Why?
In most situation I would say.  Since we’re living in Australia where the majority of the people shall be more comfortable with using English in everyday life.  Plus, I’m still in the middle of further learning the language (English) day-by-day so it is good to push myself to practice more.  Also, certainly for academic purpose I would say since the ministry college I go to is also local and operated in all English context.

In what situation/context is Swedish your preferred language of communication? Why?
Mainly when I’m with family and friends back home, because we grew up speaking to one another in Swedish so it’s more comfortable that way.  But other than that I basically only speak English when I’m here (in Australia), even with people from home.  Since we’ll always be hanging out with those who don’t understand Swedish so we don’t want to make anyone feel left out.  Oh, but sometimes when I can’t think of a word in English I use the Swedish word of similar meaning so maybe my Swedish friend could translate it.  That’s probably the time when I can’t entirely talk in English.

How long have you been living in Coogee? And what languages are commonly spoken/used as far as you know?
This is my fourth year living in Coogee.  It is nice around here and so far people I know mainly speak English.  Some of them might know other different languages themselves but mostly English.  Oh, not sure if this counts, the pizza place down the road, people there speak a language I don’t know.  It could be Spanish I’m not sure.  But yea they speak to some of the customers in that language, they probably share the same mother tongue.

What do you think of the level of language diversity in the area?
Not very diverse I would say. Like for the restaurants I’ve been to around here have all English menus as I remember so I guess that tells you the language background of the people here.  They do incorporate specific words of the dishes like “char kway teow” at a thai restaurant but that’s pretty much it.

How do you feel about yourself or other people communicating in a language outside of context? Let’s say two Italian classmates of yours chatting in Italian during an English-based group discussion.
Well, honestly, whatever language they’re comfortable with speaking.  There could be many reasons why people decide to speak a certain language or another.  Like how I get stuck and had to come up with the Swedish word, some people are still beginners or they’re too shy to speak in a language they’re not very good at.  It could get annoying and feel left out if friends of yours turn out to “switch channels” and speak their languages but I personally respect them in a sense.  As long as they’re not intentionally doing it to say bad things about someone knowing that they do not understand .


Information collected by Richard Lau


Attitudes towards languages and transport

I spent this week attempting to talk to some people regarding their experiences with foreign languages on public transport in the area. Although I was not able to get a large or varied sample size, the response I did get seemed to be mostly positive.

Bus stop at Coogee, 29/4/18

One of the people I talked to was a frequent user of the buses in Coogee, and spoke English, Assyrian, Arabic, and Turkish. She stated that she speaks Assyrian if she is on public transport with family, but otherwise speaks English. She claimed to have never had any bad experiences speaking a foreign language on the bus, and said that she didn’t care about people speaking
languages she doesn’t understand, reasoning that since she does it she understands, although it can get annoying if they’re overly loud. Overall this is a very positive viewpoint of Coogee’s attitudes towards language use in this space, albeit it comes from someone who has no reason to be hostile towards other language use, the fact that she also has not had any bad experiences is a very good sign.

Bus stop at Coogee, 29/4/18
A second woman I talked to spoke English and Spanish, only speaking Spanish with her sister and friends. She told me that she hasn’t had any bad experiences herself but has witnessed an incident once where a man got angry at her friend for speaking Spanish, telling her to speak English. She thought he might have gotten frustrated simply because he didn’t understand what they were saying. The idea that because you are in Australia you should speak English is a monolinguistic ideology, and the incident is a good example of why it can be a problem. The
fact that this type of harassment has only occurred once for this woman is good, but it’s a common story.

Finally, I also talked with a woman who didn’t speak any language but English. She told me that she likes hearing people speak foreign languages and that she hasn’t seen any bad reactions to
it herself. This rounds out the results to being relatively positive towards foreign language use, with a minimal, yet still present, stigma against foreign language use.

Information collected by Hugh McGregor