AE 405 – Interview: Moving to France & Starting a Podcast on Paris with Oliver Gee
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Anyway, guys, today is another interview episode, and today I have the pleasure of interviewing Oliver Gee a fellow Australian who lives in Europe. So, Oli moved over to Europe a few years back. He first went to Sweden, he learnt Swedish, and then he has since moved to France, and is currently undergoing the difficult and arduous process of learning French, and he is the founder and host of the podcast The Earful Tower. So, you’ll find out why it’s called the Earful Tower shortly. But enjoy today’s interview, guys. We chat about Europe, we chat about learning foreign languages, we have a bit of a yarn about accents, and what it’s like for an Aussie to live in Europe.
Anyway guys, make sure you check out Oli’s podcast. The links will be in the description or in the transcript for this episode, and they’ll also be mentioned at the end. But let’s get into it.
Oliver… is it Gee, Oli Gee or Oli Gee?
Gee, that’s it, that’s actually it.
I should have asked before we started, but welcome to the Aussie English Podcast.
I’m thrilled to be here.
You would be the first podcaster I think I’ve interviewed on this podcast.
Hey, look at that! We could talk in code podcasting ways.
That’s it, so I guess… you’re from The Earful Tower.
Tell me about it. How did it start? What does it do? Give me the full story about you and The Earful Tower and living in Paris.
Sure. Well the clue is in the name, right? So, the Earful Tower is my attempt at being clever and a play-on-wordsy kind of thing, because like you said, I’m in Paris, where there’s the Eiffel Tower, but obviously a podcast is audio. So, we switched to the Earful Tower. You think you’re being clever, a lot of people don’t get it. And you spend a lot of time explaining, but the people who get it, you figure it’s a pretty good sort of example to show. It’s a fun look at life in Paris, a little bit different. You know, not just the Eiffel Tower, it’s like talking to people, doing interesting things in Paris, and using them and their expertise to help me understand France and the French people. So, it’s a bit of a journey and everyone that’s listening sort of learns with me.
So, how did it begin? How did you decide… you know, did you just wake up one day and you’re like, “you know what? I’m gonna become a podcaster!”?
The truth is when I started about a year ago and I didn’t… I didn’t even listen to podcast at that point.
That’s an awkward position to start from.
It was pretty stupid. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I had a mate that had a job at a radio station and he was looking for shows and to add to the radio, right? And he… ’cause I was a journalist at the time, and he goes “look, man, will you do a news show?” and I say “I’m not interested in doing news show, but I’d like to do a kind of talk show”, and I convinced him to do it and I started putting it out on the radio, and it got kind of popular for him. So, we switched it… Well, I decide to make it into a podcast, and that’s when I start listening to other podcasts and hearing what worked and what was interesting, and, luckily, getting into this world that all your listeners are in too. Where you just, you know, you’re into listening to cool stories that people put a lot of effort into. And I mean, it just… the idea of doing a talk show. It’s kind of I wanted to figure out Paris and France, and getting opportunity to meet people like authors and you know TV stars or comedians. It’s just a cool way to meet people. And, I mean, as you know now, and like sitting down and sitting across from them in a room or whatever and chatting to them. I find it really interesting. It’s cool.
So, that’s how it all started, almost by accident really, but there you go.
And so, is it in English? Is it in French? Is it a bit of both? Is it in Franglais?
My French is… I was going to say, atrocious. It’s not atrocious. It’s… but it’s not good enough to do a podcast in. So, it’s all in English and I think…
I don’t know, like, I don’t think I would put it in French, because a lot of the people that listen to it are people abroad and not French people, you know, like people in America or people in Australia even as well, Australian listeners. And if I started doing in French there will be confused, more confused than I’d be, I reckon. I think it will stay in English for now.
So, what did you do when you decided: “ok I want to start a podcast”? How did you come up with your idea, and then what were the next steps for that, and how did you go about it?
Should I be a… I feel like when I’m talking to you, you’ve got a stronger Australian accent than me.
You got a British accent, mate!
I’ll tell you why, speaking of accents, because I spent four years living in Sweden, right? And when I first moved there I spoke like anyone else in Australia and very quickly, and a lot of the Swedes, even though they speak brilliant English, they just didn’t understand it.
No exposure, right?
Right, right, so I slowed it right down, and I think when you slow down the Australian accent you lose the accent, you know? And then when I move to France it was the same thing, they speak… I mean, maybe even worse English than the Swedes. So, I spoke clearly and I think that’s what got rid of the accent or maybe made it sound sort of English.
I always find that peculiar too, because I had a very strong accent at high school or not strong, but stereotypical accent in high school, and then when I went to university I moved to Melbourne and all of a sudden I was surrounded by foreigners, you know, 80 percent of the people there are from overseas, and my accent just dropped with regards to its sort of strength, the slang that I used, I had to get rid of, and it was so weird, ’cause it was kind of like a subconscious thing. I wasn’t actively trying to do this, but it’s funny that the mind tries to avoid misunderstandings. You try to stray away from any conversations where you constantly have to be like, “this is what I mean, that’s the slang, this is my pronunciation”.
I reckon… I think that there’s a little-known language that I don’t think a lot of people speak. I don’t know I’d call it, maybe like Simple English, and it’s this English that people… you have to speak when you’re like, when you’re travelling, right? Let’s say you go… I don’t know, Germany tomorrow. You’ll see a lot of people, especially Australians, and they talk with slang and stuff, but they don’t realise that maybe that not everyone… you know, they don’t even realise it’s slang, you know? So, I think it’s a real skill for people to know that they should speak as sort of almost dumbed down version, not dumbed down, but just clear and simple English.
You have to hit standardized, right?
And you wonder if that’s like a colonised… what would you call it? like a colonised nation history kind of problem, right? Of everyone from a British English-speaking countries in the colonies, French ones, ’cause you… obviously if you’ve got one country that is the only country that speaks that language, you’ll never get to have that problem.
But if there’s English everywhere, you have to be aware that you can’t just speak with the slang you use at home and when you go… even if I go to America, right? I can’t just start blasting them with all the stuff I use every day, ’cause they’ll just look at me like I’m speaking another language.
Exactly, and it’s just… it’s kind of a courtesy thing, ’cause people don’t like to feel left out and stupid when they don’t understand something, but it happens, the people using the really crazy slang things, like you’re being the one that’s kind of stupid here, tone it down so that we can all talk to each other, you know?
Yeah, yeah, yeah it’s almost like you’re the one that’s in that boat paddling in the wrong direction.
Exactly, exactly. Standardised English. I like it.
What happens then now? Now that you do… ’cause to me you got on the podcast and I was like “ok, I was pretty sure he was Australian. Maybe he’s British and I just somehow got that wrong”, ’cause obviously I heard…
No, no, no, I’m Aussie.
Yeah. So, do you come back to Australia and do people give you a funny look, or does it take a while to come out?
Only when they see my face do I get a funny look. No, I don’t know. To be honest, I’m not back in Australia so often. Like, it’s been maybe… like, I don’t know, eight or nine or ten years that I’ve been living in Europe, and I go back once every maybe three years or something. And so… I don’t know, when I’m there I don’t… people don’t tell me I talk …you know what? What’s more common is when I’m in Europe or America or whatever and people trying to guess where I’m from.
You get to screw with people.
No one ever guesses it, but they always… when I say I’m Australian, they go “yeah, yeah! That’s it! I knew it!”, I’m like there’s no way you knew it, because is so subtle, no one can guess. I like having a weird accent makes it a bit different and unique, you know?
That’s crazy. So, were you learning other languages? Like, what made you decide to go to Europe and obviously spent time in Sweden before France?
Yeah well, I had a Swedish girlfriend, past tense, past tense, had. I moved with her and I learned Swedish, like, I learned it fluently, like legally fluently, like I could study in university there.
So, now you can say, what is it like? Eg ekki elska di. Is that it?
That sounds like some Danish to me.
I have no idea. What it sounded like was like Borat saying I love you. That’s what it sounded like. What you said was the equivalent, “I love you.”
Yeah, yeah. I only know Icelandic, I’m learning Icelandic, but no Swedish so, that’s why I’m like… I think it’s “ekki”.
It’ll be like “Jeg elska dig”, will be what it is.
You “don’t”, right? Ég ekki alska dig.
In that case, in Icelandic maybe, in Swedish or in Danish or Norwegian you say “Jeg inte elska dig” or something, but in Swedish is a bit different. But, anyway, speaking of love and falling out of love, I left there, and then realised learning Swedish was absolutely useless in any other country in the entire world, but I learned it, and I can speak it, but then I moved to France and had to learn that one instead. So, I don’t know. Maybe they also made my accent weird. I don’t know.
Did that prepare you, though? Having learnt Swedish, what was the process like, and then did that prepare you when you went to France to learn French?
Yeah, it was different, because… it is really interesting in Sweden they really encourage you to learn Swedish. Like, really… at the time and I was there, I’m not sure if they still do it, but they paid me to do these courses.
Yeah. So, I was really motivated to learn, and that’s why I learned it. I learned it so quickly. I was jumping up ahead in levels to be the bottom of the class to try and get to the top and jump other people, ’cause I was like, I had my eyes on the prize at the end, which was financial as well as wanting to learn the language.
So, you only got the money at the end, did you? You didn’t get it during, you had to get to a certain point, did you? And they were like “cash prizes”.
Yeah, yeah, it was like The Price Is Right or something, you had to get to the very end, but I was like… that was the carrot dangling in front of me, and I was like, I’m running for that carrot. But then coming to Paris, there’s no… well, there’s no financial motivation to do courses and stuff you have to pay for them. So, it’s almost the opposite.
And I imagine they are a pretty penny.
When I first got here I did… I signed up for some classes, the cheapest ones I could find, and it was… it was outrageously boring. The French, as I understand, the French teaching system is quite some countries would say it is quite dated, like they just stand at the front. They like to sort of teach at you, and the teachers of young children have been criticised for making the kids feel pretty much scared, like you’re nervous to not know it. And honestly even though I’m a grown adult, there were times when I felt nervous sitting in the class when they’d be going round and they’d be like “Oliver, what’s the subjunctive?” or, you know, “where’s the subjunctive in this tense example here?”, and I’d be like, “I don’t know!”, and he’d be like, “Oh, you don’t know?”, and I’d be like, “I got no idea”, and he’d be like, “oh, you got no idea! What do you think?”, and I’d be like, “don’t ask me. I’m scary.”. So, I wasn’t motivated.
[00:10:58] So, you think that’s the culture over there, do you?
I don’t know, I didn’t hang around to find out. I hated those classes. So, I got out of it and tried to learn by doing 30-minute language exchanges with my neighbour from Grenoble, and we’d do 30 minutes in English, 30 minutes in French, and we were both rubbish at our respective languages.
But that’s good, though, right? Gives you motivation.
Yeah it was. Here’s something you might find interesting about languages. Here in France, he…, obviously Game of Thrones is popular everywhere, but it was popular here as well and they dub everything here, right?
That’s the best part. That’s the best part about learning French in Australia.
Right, but not for…not for French people wanting to learn English, right? And that’s a specific example. It took them a while to dub it and put it on TV, when everyone else who’s addicted to it, maybe they’re downloading it and getting it instantly, but all these French people that don’t speak English there’s no point in downloading, ’cause they can’t understand. But, this neighbour from Grenoble he started learning English, because he was so addicted to Game of Thrones that he’d be forced to watch it without the dubbing or subtitles.
That’s awesome! That’s such a good motivation, you know?
Exactly. The only problem is he talks like a character from Game of Thrones. I was saying like, “Let’s go for a beer” and he’d say “Onward! To the pub!”
I think if you play that up, you know, you’ll do well, you’ll do well. You’ll at least get a few laughs.
Yeah, right, right.
Yeah. So, different ways to learn. I mean, you know, it doesn’t have to necessarily be in a class, that’s what I took from it all.
And so, how have you found it? Do you find it a difficult language compared to Swedish with regards to things like grammar and pronunciation? Because I’ve heard and I sort of have a feeling that Swedish is a little easier for English speakers, right, with regard to at least pronunciation and grammar.
You’re exactly right. It’s… There’s just so many rules and so many ways to get it wrong and French in, and so many tenses, and Swedish is just very…it’s just very straightforward to learn. Like, and the pronunciation and stuff, like, you look at… you can see. I mean, but I mean all languages are difficult to some degree, but there’s… someone’s done a table of how difficult they are for English speakers to learn and, let’s be honest, French and Swedish they’re both kind of look like English, anyway. You’re not even remotely as hard as, you know, Russian or Korean, which have whole different alphabest, you know?
I mean, we can’t complain those of us who’ve chosen to learn Latin or Germanic languages, ’cause they’re way easier…
I think it comes down, though, to a lot of the time that table is sort of a guide for like inherent difficulty, but then if you’re so sort of disconnected with the language you’re learning, like if you’re forced to do it because your, you know, work says you have to it’s kind of like just go for the harder one that you’re more passionate about, right? If you enjoy it, you know, like you were saying if you’ve got the incentives there for Swedish, it’s a walk in the park, but if there’s nothing there for French and their culture sucks at teaching you, it can be a total nightmare.
I think you’re exactly right, and I think a lot of people moved to Paris, and especially outside of Paris in other parts of France, where they speak less English, there’s a real motivation, I think, to learn it, because a lot of doors will open for you, and I don’t just mean…I don’t just mean you’ll be able to order a croissant in the bakery, I mean, more like when you go interact with people, you get to do it on their…their terms and see who they really are. So, I mean, yeah, you’ll be able to do everything you want in English, but you’re never really going to understand anything in terms of like the context of how the country works.
Exactly, that blew my mind, I think, once I learned French and understanding oh shit! I’m having a conversation with someone who doesn’t speak English and I’ve got over this barrier and I’m sort of understanding their personality, cultural outlook and everything in the context of their own language, was like what?
And that’s the thing. Me and you are having this conversation and I assume is your mother tongue is English, Australian English, so we know exactly who each other… like, we know who we are, I know who you are and then we can… It’s much easier to make some assumptions wrong or right, but I can sort of, we can figure out who we are pretty quickly because we’re showing the exact versions of ourselves who we are, but if me and you were having this conversation French or if you were to talk to someone whose second language is English, you’re never going to get the same connection to the same level, you know? It’s pretty interesting, I think. It’s pretty fascinating, I reckon.
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I loved it, I got addicted. Once French was sort of in the works and I was at basic fluency. It was weird because I’d gotten past the beginning stages, intermediate stages, you get into advance and you kind of like I miss the beginning stages of where everything was new and like you know you didn’t recognize words and that’s why I had to start another one and I started learning Portuguese yeah but it keeps going and it’s such a fun process, I think.
And how was it to learn Portuguese?
It’s not too bad it’s just that the resources aren’t there, at least for me, with regards to how I like to learn with podcasts and stuff. I probably haven’t looked that hard. I just I just use Harry Potter. To be honest I have that in like seven different languages and I just.
I’ve downloaded them all a long time ago and have them all there in Swedish, Icelandic, Italian and I’m just like, if I just go through and read book 1 to 7 I’m sure I’ll learn a language by the end as long as I’ve got Google Translate there and I can hear it.
Yeah. I love Harry Potter in French. The magic wand is called a baguette.
I love that.
The thing too that blew me away, I’m listening to it at the moment in Portuguese and in French and then narrator in French is astonishing. He’s amazing like the way.
Yeah. It’s really weird, I never would’ve thought that I would have had this sort of depth of understanding just straight away at, you know, this guy’s really good at oration, you know, just talking and the way he emphasises bits and he’s just, he’s music to listen to whereas the Portuguese guy he isn’t bad, but he kind of just stumbles through it word for word and there’s not really there’s not really a lot of emotion in it whereas the French guys always like, you know, putting on voices and going up and down in tone, speeding up, slowing down and it gives it a lot of colour.
So, that’s so interesting, because, like, you’re one of the few people in the world who you could potentially say “oh Harry Potter… I prefer it in French.”.
There’s probably a few of us, but yeah…no one else… you can’t have this conversation with anyone else in Australia at least.
That’s why you’re one of the few people that can say it.
Did you find it strange too? I get English learners envy, because it feels like for anyone who speaks another language as their first language, no matter what, when they start learning English, there’s more resources available to them than there was in their native language, whereas for us, it’s the reverse, where you’re sort of, you’re going into a smaller set of resources. So, there’s… it’s like… I can imagine you, as an English learner, you have this massive incentive, ’cause the Internet is in English, every movie that anyone knows is in English, every TV show, it’s all in English. And so, for me I had to like spend hours looking for like, you know, top 10 French TV shows and then go through and be like…
It’s interesting. I’ve never come across English learners envy, but I don’t envy anyone that’s setting out to learn English, because it’s a beautiful language, but it is so complicated, so complicated, and even like the Swedes who speak such fantastic English, even the best of them will still make mistakes and give themselves away as a foreigner, and you just… and it becomes almost funny, because they’re so good at English, and they make just the smallest mistake, and you’re like, “Well, you still haven’t mastered it”. It’s almost impossible to master, you know what I mean?
Can you talk about that for a bit? Because I was going to say you’re totally right. And it’s funny, because I meet a lot of people who say, “English isn’t that hard. Our language has way more difficult grammar.”. Like, my Estonian housemate was always like, “English is easy, Estonian’s difficult”, but he learnt English from when he was two. But it is funny that it’s kind of… it is relatively simple in certain areas, but it’s like extreme difficulty in other areas. For instance, spelling. So, how do you find that and what are your thoughts on it? Why do you think language is difficult?
I think English is difficult because it is so big and it’s based on… and it’s just… as I understand, it was made up of all these different languages, and is so quick to adapt things from other languages, and as a result, is just so wildly irregular. Like, I mean, we’ve all seen these things… I mean, things like… I can think of a few examples, the things like, you know, the O-U-G-H and you can pronounce it: cough, through, thorough, you know, bough. That’s just stupid, obviously, that’s stupid. And anyone learning it, the only way to learn it is to learn the words individually. There’s no rule. Whereas in Italian you, especially you or me, could learn to speak Italian and read out loud within a day or two, because it always follows the rules, even where you put the stress. It’s like you put the stress on the second last syllable or something every time. So, it’s like Maria, conditore, whatever, like that, you know? Whereas there’s nothing like that in English. And another example that comes to mind I saw was… you know that thing I before E except after C? You know that? that you will have to forever repeat, and I saw on a TV show that there are more exceptions to that rule than things that follow it. You know, there’s just so… even just words like ‘science’, which has S-C-I-E… so, it’s I before E after a C. Like there’s just… there’s so many exceptions to it that they stopped teaching that in schools now. I mean, it’s so irregular like that and I just can’t…I don’t know how anyone could master it. So, in terms of giving it away, the things that like the Swedes, the mistakes that they do are really little, but like…like a greeting plural or singular things and getting that mixed up so, saying, “there are a bunch of us at the shop, which are closing”, or something like.
Yeah, ok, gotcha, yep.
That might sound odd, but maybe wasn’t perfect example, but they think, “Okay, I’ve got to match the final word with the plural, but at the start.”, things like that and you just hear and you go…Hmmm…
The funny thing is, though, we make those errors too. Like, I would say “there’s a group of us and we’re…”, you know, what’s an example? “There’s a big group of people who…” and it, you would… you know, when you talk about a group of something plural, but you should be using the singular, “the group is big” or, you know, “is”, “the group is”, but then you pluralise it or vice versa and that’s just a natural mistake that people seem to make all the time now.
That can even be complicated for people who are very advanced native English speakers. Like, in journalism, there’s…you see a lot of headlines where would say for example, let’s say a company, let’s say Bunnings, right? So, Bunnings is a good example because it sounds plural, but it is a company, so it’s singular. So, if you say Bunnings is expanding, whereas a lot of people think that they’re a company, because there’s a bunch of people working there and it’s a group, and “Bunnings are expanding”. The correct answer should be “Bunnings is expanding”, but it sounds wrong, you know what I mean?
So, for example you could say, “everyone at the company are great” or something instead of “everyone at the company is great”, because you’re thinking plural instead of singular.
Not to mention “none” and “no one”, which gets people even more confused, ’cause then it’s… Oh my goodness. And for anyone who doesn’t know Bunnings is a warehouse. I don’t know if your listeners know it in Australia.
Bunnings? Knowing it’s a warehouse? Yeah.
Oh, it’s a minefield. Like I said, I don’t envy anyone learning it. I feel so grateful that it’s my first language.
Do you have any advice for people learning English? Like, especially Swedish people or French people? Have you come across common errors or even just tactics or ways for learning it that sort of help?
Yeah, I think… I think it’s just… I think the best way to learn any language, in my own experience, and it must be the same for English, is to put yourself in a position where you need to speak it. So, reading in a book or… like a lot of French people, they study English at school and they study all the way until they’re adult, and then they… you meet them and you say, “hey, do you speak English?” and they say, “No, no, no!”, ’cause they’re so nervous, ’cause they never used it, right? So, my tip would be… And I’ll give you an example. I remember when I was in Swedish and… first or second class they taught us how to say “what’s the time” or whenever, couple of classes in. So, I went out and I checked my watch just to make sure I knew the time, and I hid it, and then I just walked up to people in the street, and I said “what time is it?”, and then I learned… like, I knew it was 10 to 2 or whatever, but like five people in a row all answered it in a different way, whether they said something like, “Oh, I’ll check my phone”, “Oh, it’s early than I thought”, or “It’s 10 to 2” or “It’s nearly two”, and I just heard them all, and I didn’t understand half of it, but I knew the rough answer, ’cause I’d looked at the clock, but the point is like, I’d gone out there, and I’d done it in a way that I had to be involved in it, you know? Rather than just learning in class too and then never using it until the end of the term, and then going “How do you say that again?”.
That comes out of too from a memory perspective. As soon as you learn something new, you should go out and use it instantly, even if it’s just talking to yourself. But I only know what you mean, and I think that’s one of the biggest things that I have to overcome with students, a lot of the time, is trying to encourage them to go out and actually use the language. Like, just… I think changing their perception of mistakes and thinking, “The more mistakes I make, the better I am, the more I’m advancing, the more that’s a sign that I’m increasing my English abilities”, as opposed to, “oh my god I don’t want to make a mistake ’cause I’ll look like an idiot”. It’s kind of like, “Dude, go look like an idiot it’s for your own good. Do it. Trust me. Yeah!”.
That’s the ultimate tip. Don’t… like, you will look like an idiot, and every… like, I saw a really cool thing of the day. It said, “Never mock someone’s accent because like, foreign accent, because it’s a sign of bravery they’ve dared to learn a new language.”.
You know? And it’s totally right. Like, how embarrassing that you think to mock someone, but like if they’ve got a French accent, they’ve learned a whole language and they’re taking the time to talk to you.
That irks me, that really pisses me off so much, especially in Australia, and we can probably talk about language learning in Australia a bit, but it seems like there are, and it’s probably the same in Britain and America I would imagine and a lot of other countries, but there are a lot of people in Australia who seem to always have that attitude of “Fucking learn English!”, like “Why can’t you speak English properly? You’ve been learning. Like, come on! speak my language!”, and you’re like….at least my reaction is always, “So, how would your French?” You know? “Do you wanna speak in your in Portuguese? How’s your Chinese?” like, “Let’s go!”, you know?
It’s just baffling that anyone would be like that, and especially… I think if these kind of people who are… I mean, some like racist people to me, but these kind of people can’t get their head around it. Like, go and culture yourself and learn a bit of a language and realise just how wildly difficult it can be, and hopefully, realise how enjoyable and how much he can open you up to stuff, but then get a bit of context and then stop criticising people about their accents. You know, if people criticised me about my accent in Swedish or French, like…I’d just be like, “Are you kidding me? I’m doing my best. You kidding me?”
First world problems. Is this the only thing that you can complain about?
Focus on what I am saying and let’s talk about that, or focus on helping me to get something correct, but let’s not focus on the accent, ’cause that’s the exact reason that people get scared to learn a different language.
So, what advice would you give people who think that they have an incredibly strong accent in a language that they’re speaking?
I tell you exactly. I’ve got the perfect advice that one of my guests on my show gave me, and he was a… it was really cool. He was like a 75-year-old guy that… from England that I just bumped into randomly on the street one day, and I said I got a radio show I’d love to have… ’cause he lived in Paris for 50 years as an expat.
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And I was like, “I’d love to hear your tips for other expats”, and stuff like that. It ended up being one of the top episodes of the whole season. And he sat down with me and I said, “you know, what should I do about French and my accent and stuff?” and, he said “listen”, and this is the tip that I’m given to you now, he goes “embrace that you are different because it opens doors for you”. It’s like… Firstly, let’s say you go to a job interview with 20 French people, like if I go to a job interview 20 French people, and it’s all in French. I’ll be the one where they can go on “the guy with the Australian accent” or “the guy with the British accent” or whatever I have, and I’m immediately separated from them. Whether I’m more talented or not, it’s just a way to be different, and remembering that when I speak English I have an accent, maybe not so wildly strong, but I have an accent anyway. So, I have an accent I speak French and Swedish. So, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. That’s just who I am. It’s a part of who I am. So, the tip is embrace it. And if you’re French, especially French people always think that they have like a too strong accent, who cares if it’s too strong? You are a French person. You’re French. So, just speak it and get on with it. And like, it’s interesting to talk about language, but when you’re on the streets just get on with it. Do what you have to…
I think that’s it. You need to get to the point of being understood and anything more is a bonus.
Yeah. True. Plus, you’re interesting. Like, it’s a cool story that it will help you learn by having to explain that story a million times. And like, when I moved to France, I always love it when people would talk to me about language and where I’m from, ’cause it was the conversation I practiced the most, and it would get me into the conversation, rather than if I met them and they said something like, “Oh that’s pretty excessive strikes going on for these labor reforms”, then I would cry. But when they say to me things like, “oh is that an accent?”, “Yes, I’m Australian.” Then I mean like, then we’re just going through motions. And then, maybe we’ll get to the labor reforms and maybe we could have a go at it, but at least I’ll feel that I’ve talked for 10 minutes in French before switching into English, you know?
That’s a good point. I did a… I think it was a video or a podcast episode a while back talking about… I had a small book that was tips on learning a foreign language and how to immediately improve it, and one of them was, take control of the conversation by responding to questions or asking questions, because as soon as you do that, you’re keeping that discussion in your realm, but as soon as you shut down and stop answering, the other person it has to start working and guessing and bringing things up, and you’ve automatically lost control of where the conversation’s going to go.
Yeah, yeah. Even if it… I think it’s… on top of that, even I think it’s quite good or advisable to stop someone and say to them, like, I’ve been doing it a bit lately, I just go, like I say I’m French, I go like, “Wow! You sure speak French quickly.”. And then they always…
That’s clever! You don’t even have to ask them to slow down, ’cause it’s inferred.
So, there’s so much that comes out of it. Firstly, they’ll slowdown, which is the main thing. Secondly, they’ll realise like… that I say.
Sorry, I broke up for a sec, what did you say, sorry?
So, I said when you say that… when you tell them that they speak quickly, it works to your advantage, ’cause they know that you’re having, like… you having a laugh with them. So, it kind of breaks the ice a bit. Second, most important, it slows them down, which is what you’re after. But third, you… it’s a conversation point. They can go like, “oh, sorry I didn’t realise I do that. Where are you from?”, okay, you know? So, you stop them from breaking away into we just send like a stream of too fast French or whatever language it is that you can’t keep up with. It’s pretty good one. It’s a bit cheeky.
That’s clever. That’s clever. I’d recommend the listeners here use that definitely. Go out there and next time someone’s talking too fast just be like, “Wow you speak really quickly! It’s impressive!” you know?
That would work. If someone said that to me I’d be like, “Oh my God, sorry”.
Exactly! It puts you on the back foot, right? You’re like “Oh, man! sorry!” you know? “No worries.”.
Yeah, there’s one of my tips. I did it to a French woman the other day in the bar, and I didn’t, like… I didn’t want her to switch to English, but just switched to English as a result, and as I was like, “Ah, I don’t mind, I’ll let her switch to English”, but usually they just speak slower.
That tends to be another English learner envy issue that I have is that pretty much no matter who I speak with in French or Portuguese, their English is going to be better than my Portuguese or French, respectively, and they switch to that, or as soon as they can tell, “Oh, you speak English!” BAMM!! And you just like, “God, damn it! Everywhere I go!”. Is it like that in France for you speaking French? Do you get people saying, “Anglais, anglais, anglais, c’est plus facile!” like, “It’s easier, English! English!”.
I get it. Even today, I went to Starbucks, I was with another English person, we’re speaking in English, and the first guy says, “What do you want?”, and I order and everything, and he says, “What’s your name?”, and I put the name on it, even said like “Oliver”, like I did it in French, and then the next girl, who’d sort of heard and seen everything, she goes “There’ll be five euros”, in English. And like, they like the chance to switch to English. But I have a tip for you, like this instance it didn’t work because I’ve been talking with the woman next to me, but if that ever happens to you again in France, and you know you’re not going to see him again, or in Portugal, and they switch to English all of a sudden, like if you go, “Oh you speak too quickly!”, and they switch to English, you respond and you say something like, “Sorry, I don’t understand you come from Poland or Russia?”. It’s a massive gamble, ’cause if they speak Polish then you’re absolutely wrecked, but often they won’t, and then they’ll be like, “Oh, ok, I didn’t know that, I’ll speak slower for you”, and then…
Or you can just screw with them and be like, “HA!! I’m kidding, man. I speak English. It’s fine”.
I think humour is really important. If you can… even if you’re… you know, maybe you don’t use humour as a sort of tool in your daily life, just using these kind of… sort of tips with a little sort of wink in your eye, it’s a way of relieving that tension that a lot of people feel when they’re trying to speak a foreign language and they get lost really quick…
That’s what I try to encourage people to as well. They are always like, “Can I say the slang? Can I say this?”, and I’m like, “Man, if anyone has the license to do so inappropriately…”, you know, not to mention if you’re doing it correctly, but if you make a mistake people aren’t going to, you know, they’re not going to care, they’re going to be like “look, you probably shouldn’t have said that, but we’ll give you a pass” so, I’m always like go to town, man! “G’day, mate! How’s it going? No wukkas!”.
It’s also a very respectful and polite thing to do to your host country that you’re… that you care enough to learn their slang or their… you know, go off the textbook a bit. I was sitting in a bar recently with a bunch of people and there’s a French guy, and we were speaking… we… maybe were speaking English or French, doesn’t matter, but I’d learned that day this random French phrase, I can’t remember what it means, but I think it means like it’s ridiculous or something like that…
What is it? Can you say it for me?
The phrase is “Ça me fait une belle jambe” …
Which is effectively that makes, gives me a blue… sorry, it gives me a beautiful leg or something, right?
Exactly right. And I think it means… It doesn’t matter what it means, it means “that’s crazy” or “that’s good” or “I don’t want to do it”, whatever. It’s not logical in any case. But like I said before about the time, I’d learned that that day, and I was like, “I’m gonna use that tonight and see how it goes down”. So, we’re all sitting around this table and someone suggested doing something. I think it means, “that irritates me”, whatever, and I go on, I sat back and I said “Ça me fait une belle jambe”, something like that. Everyone just looked at me and this one French guy from Brittany, and he stood up and walked around the table and kissed me on the cheek and said, “Thank you so much”, and then walked back and sat down. I was like… just it’s so appreciated to make that effort.
Even though I can’t remember what it means. It was just that idea of learning something, trying it, and showing like, “Yeah, like, I’m invested in you and you country, and I’m gonna make the most of it.”.
I think too, people feel an instant moment of like, “This guy understands me more, because he’s picked up on the slang. He’s obviously getting into the culture a lot more. I feel like I’m closer to him now, you know?”. And I had those moments with foreigners who might be from Spain or something. If they use slang with me and they speak pretty good English, I’ll be like, “Wow! ok, I feel like we’re here”, whereas I could have an American come up to me and speak American English with no slang no understanding, I’d feel like, “Ok… we’re not, we’re not as close, you know?”.
Yeah, I’m with ya. There’s a there’s a comedian in England, I don’t know you watch panel shows in English, and I can’t remember his name, but it’s Henning… Henning something, he’s German, and he speaks with a very strong accent, almost like a kind of Borat level, but he speaks impeccable English and uses all these phrases. It’s like he got a phrasebook from 1960s Cockney or something, and he just uses them in this wild German accent, and it’s like… he’ll says things… even just like what… like oh… “That makes a pretty penny” or something, but he’d be like, “That makes a pretty penny!”, like that, you get it, and that’s so cool that he’s… and he’s made his career as an unusual comedian in England. So, good for him. He gets it.
Far out. Man, well, before we finish up, I should ask you, what is it like being an Australian in Europe? What are the biggest cultural differences? What are the things that stick out that made you think, “What the hell” as an Aussie in Europe?
I think the thing… the cultural difference that I noticed the most compared from Australia in Europe is Australians are very relaxed and open and quite friendly and small talky and don’t take themself too seriously, which I really like, and that’s kind of how I am, and a lot of people in Europe aren’t the same. And I think… I thought about it a lot and one thing I’ve sort of agreed with that I’ve heard is that, especially in the big cities like Paris, people are really crowded in with each other, and it makes them have no privacy often. So, they value their privacy more. So, they want to… they don’t care to have small talk all the time or they don’t care to help a neighbour move in, ’cause they’re like look… So, I find that really hard when I move to Sweden that people didn’t want to give me a nod on the street kind of thing. I thought they were really cold. But it’s just… it’s just the way that people are here in the big cities, you know?
I feel like the same sort of thing everywhere there, right? Like I went to… Have you heard of a place called… now I’ve forgotten the name of it… It’s a small island…Lord Howe Island. I went… off of Sydney, about five hundred kilometres into the ocean, thousand kilometres? I don’t know. There’s like 400 people that live there. And the moment you get there everyone’s waving, they’re like “What’s your name? Where you’re from?”. In the street you’re riding your bike or driving a car and they’re like, “G’day!”. And it was so weird coming from Melbourne with four million people where you just don’t do that with strangers. And I think it’s almost there’s just people everywhere all the time, so it’s not really a… you’re not likely to bump into the same person.
It could be a city thing, but still, in Melbourne I still think, if you’re in Melbourne and you walked into a… I don’t know, let’s say McDonald’s or a department store and you’re likely to fell a friendly connection from them.
So, you don’t get that in Europe? Even if you walked into a store.
You can get it, but not the same, like this just a bit different. And a lot of people meet me and they’ll say, “Oh, yeah! I know you’re Australian, ’cause you’re friendly” or something like that. So, it sounds like a negative thing to say about Europeans, but it’s not meant to be like that.
I’ve got some Estonian friends and they’re like, “It’s so weird like, coming to Australia, everyone smiles, and they don’t make jokes like them like this”, and they were like, you know how you know what… “Who’s a foreigner in Estonia? And it’s that they want to talk to you.”.
They say in Sweden that if someone smiles at you on the metro, that they’re either drunk or American. So, I don’t know. That sounds like a pretty negative review that I just gave Europe and Europeans, but obviously… there’s a lot of positive things.
I think there’s a lot of history in that too there, right? It’s tied in with post Second World War era and the USSR, and, you know, it’s cold! Australia’s pretty easy going, everyone has a good life and everyone’s your mate. We’ve come through a lot of issues and had to kind of band together and have that mateship culture side of things.
It’s true, and I’ve got that in Paris that I never had in Sweden, is that I’ve got a lot of Australian friends here, whereas when I was in Sweden, I… yeah, in Sweden I wasn’t interested in meeting Australians, because I was like, “Oh, I could’ve met them at home.”
Were there many of them there?
In Sweden there’s only 3000 Australians scattered around. So, they’re findable. But I was like, “I got a Swedish girlfriend. I’ve got a job. I can speak Swedish. I don’t need you guys” like, you know, “Plus we’re not so unique if we all hang out together”. But then when I came to France, I came without a French partner, without speaking good French, and when I met Australians I was like, yeah, like we help each other, you know, “Oh, God how do you sort out your tax return?”, you know, and “Who am I going to get help with that?”. So, we’ll all like “yeah, I’ll help you” and, you know, it’s quite tough. So, we end up sort of banding together in a really sort of close and strong way. I really appreciate, you know, having strange friends.
Have you had to try and leave that behind, though, the more advanced you want to kind of get in French? Is there a sort of a push and pull?
I mean, splice them in with French friends as well and all hang out together. It makes a very interesting melting pot.
Man, well, we should probably finish up there. I think I’ve almost kept you for three quarters of an hour. How can people find out more about you, Oliver?
Yeah, well, if they want to listen to another podcast, obviously, when they’re finished listening to yours for the week, they should head over to The Earful Tower. So, E-A-R-F-U-L. And it’s just…I don’t know, it’s on Facebook, it’s all over the place. If you Google it, you’ll find it, and it’s just similar conversations to what we had, but with the main real guest every week is Paris, and just exploring Paris through other people’s experiences and expertise, that’s it, basically.
Brilliant. Thank you so much, Oliver Gee from the Earful Tower. Cheers, mate!
Thanks for having me.
All right guys, so that was the interview with Oli, Oli Gee, from The Earful Tower. Remember, that you can check out his podcast via TheEarfulTower.com, T-H-E-E-A-R-F-U-L-T-O-W-E-R.com. You can find The Earful Tower on iTunes. You can find his Facebook page obviously on Facebook. Just search for The Earful Tower and you will find him.
Aside from that guys, remember, if you want the bonus content for today’s interview episode, if you want to challenge yourself and upgrade your English by focusing on a 5 to 10-minute excerpt from today’s interview, then get in the Aussie English Classroom. You can enroll. It’s just one dollar to try it for one month, for 30 days. And today’s episode has a whole bunch of listening comprehension questions in the form of a quiz, as well as a vocab break down where we go through all the more difficult vocab in the excerpt of this interview that we study. And remember, when you sign up, you don’t just get access to this interview, you get access to everything. There’s a whole bunch of other interviews, you can go through all the expression episodes that I do, and there’s a bunch of other material on there too specifically designed to teach you Australian English.
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