Languages are easy, right? – Timor-Leste in a world no one chose.

I come to you LIVE from the Burger King next to Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport, Dili. I’m here in Timor-Leste but I write this post in English, two men sit behind me chatting in Tetum/Tetun and the Aeroporto is named in Portuguese.

Are these all the languages of this small South-East Asian nation? No. Indonesian Bahasa is common and regional languages make language diversity ever more complex.

Timor-Leste has a long history of Portuguese Colonial and Indonesian rule but with minimal focus on having language unification until recent years. It is crazy to imagine the diversity that has become so foreign to many places. I have lived in Auckland, Sydney, Buenos Aires and Mexico City – they all have one clearly used defining language for each city. Timor-Leste does not have that clarity and I cannot say if this is a good or bad quality for the nation. I forgot to mention that cultural colonial rule, dealt on globally, came from the English language too.

New Years Eve, Dili

It is good in some respects.

Think of the diverse intelligence used to jump between languages and the distinct concepts that each hold. Most common languages in Dili are Tetum, Portuguese, English and Bahasa. That is quite amazing to think of someone jumping languages as though it was all done with great ease.

It could be deemed as bad.

It is rare to find a person who speaks multiple languages at an advanced level. I say rare but many are able to do it that makes me shameful for the Australian lack of care for the indigenous languages of my home country. Australians all speak English…yay on the single English spoken group, kudos for trying this one language! But language diversity creates many organisational obstacles that do not exist in a single or even bilingual area.


I had problems with language at the beginning of my Brain Injury recovery. I thought Spanish was my native tongue for about a week as I settled into the new Brain Injury reality. I then had issues related to attention to detail, such as writing where I confused sentence structures and missing prepositions. I am writing a book about my Brain Injury experiences and I can say that I have a secret love for editing now! The clarity produced by it! The intensity of thinking normally, but in any case, language played a role in the complex healing of the Brain.


Signs are displayed in various languages and I was told that the pretend ‘native’ or ‘official’ language of the country on electoral posters was replaced with Tetum. This was after a nice big money-wasted sign, in one of the world’s poorest nations, tried to inform voters of how to cast their votes in Portuguese. This is the language of governmental law and is used in most official documents. It appears that confusion came from using this language with the broader public, many of whom do not speak it well.

I speak lower level Portuguese and higher level Spanish. For this reason I understood when many complained of learning the verb structure in Portuguese. It is very hard for them to understand quickly. The English verb structure is more complex than that of Tetum or other local languages but pales in comparison to Portuguese and Spanish – verbs can become quite the nightmare 😀 Subjunctive anyone?

VERB EXAMPLE – TO BE (SER) (courtesy of

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Maubisse and the surrounding mountains

So we think of how language plays in our lives. In Timor-Leste there is such language diversity and it is often due to accommodating grander language powers. Both regionally and internationally. I think English should win! I’m kidding, I’m just being lazy 😛 but I guess languages in Timor-Leste are surviving in a way that is not accommodated in many places. I use Australia as an example because the land has over 250 native languages that are rarely spoken and guess what? One grand language won. From the other side of the world. English. You may have heard of it…everyone has heard of it and many use it whether they like it or not.

I think Timor should continue trying to preserve local languages like Tetum, but more than just this one. Tetum is spoken widely but simply comes from the capital and largest city, Dili. Timor-Leste is more than its Colonial rule, Indonesian occupation and the spread of the English global power virus. A good and bad virus. We all share so much but we say goodbye to the unique. Language is a complex tool – for economies and societies. The language becomes us.


Published by Paul - Brain Injured and Traveller in one.

The World is an amazing place filled with adventure, awe and excitement. As a child I dreamt that I would see every country, every crevice of the globe. And now? Now I continue to fulfil that dream...I would like to share that journey with you in some small part...

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