Globe-trotting volunteer shares love of language learning


Through 20 years’ teaching two Lebanese Kiwis, David Horne made long-standing friends and added Arabic to the languages he speaks.

The avid traveller has been to 302 countries, including Lebanon, where he visited one of the learner’s families in the capital, Beirut.

Dunedin-based David (80) speaks fluent French and now speaks and writes Arabic, thanks to this precious friendship with these two men.

“I did form a very great partnership with them and their families,” he reflects as he walks around his Dunedin home, which is decorated with travel mementos including flags, photos, posters and ornaments.

In 1993, David trained with English Language Partners and initially volunteered as an ESOL home tutor with Cambodian students.  Later, he started working with the two Lebanese learners and remained a home tutor for one for 20 years and the other for 25 years, until both died at the age of 95.

“Like most people they found English difficult.”  David helped one with general English and the other with reading and public speaking for his weekly Jehovah’s Witnesses’ class. After time, the language learning became mutual.

“I said, ‘I teach you English, please teach me Arabic’.”

The men did, and eventually David was able to teach them in basic Arabic when needed. If they didn’t understand, he might use the Arabic noun or pronoun to explain.

“It helped me understand what they were going through.”

They became good friends and David supported them when the men’s wives died, really lifting one’s spirits on his more difficult days. He also got to know their children and grandchildren.

About three years ago, his second Lebanese friend died, and David finished home tutoring. However, he continues his long history of volunteering in our Dunedin centre’s support group.

He recalls how years ago, the organisation was part of Otago Polytechnic and then for a period, self-governing. “At the beginning there was no governing, it was just classes!” David speaks highly of centre manager. “Paul Naidu’s been a great leader, he’s done a wonderful job.”

Enjoying other cultures and languages is integral to David’s life. He tries to understand other nationalities’ points of view, how they think and how they do things.

“I’ve been working with people of other cultures, but I’ve done that also overseas.”

As a result of his 79 overseas trips, he has attained the Travelers’ Century Club Diamond membership, recognising that he’s visited more than 300 countries. The only countries or territories the octogenarian hasn’t been to are Mauritania, Niger, Chad, Southern Sudan, Somaliland, Somalia and the Central African Republic.

Greenland is his favourite, and he describes it as pristine. He appreciated its sub-arctic low forests and sampling wolfberries, blueberries and blaeberries in late summer. Even then the temperature was only 10 degrees Celsius. “It was cool rather than cold.”

Wall hangings depicting David Horne and his travels

David doesn’t suffer jet lag and likes the flying aspect of travel. One of his many tales is about the Century Club’s annual Christmas party in Los Angeles which David flew over to attend lots of times.

A business class ticket enabled him to eat and sleep comfortably on the plane, catch a limousine to Beverley Hills, enjoy the three-hour party, return to the airport and fly back to New Zealand, if necessary, in time for more voluntary work. He’d only be away two days.

David started travelling in 1959 and stopped in December 2019, just before Covid-19 halted most international trips.  His wanderlust has been partly funded by decades as a primary school principal, working in Five Rivers, Kumara, Ohai, Bluff and Mataura, where he taught former All Black Justin Marshall.

Asked why he began travelling, David replies that his dad worked for New Zealand Railways and the family received a free annual pass to journey by train or railways’ bus anywhere in the country.

The second reason was that his father subscribed to the National Geographic magazine.

“I used to ask the teacher about the remoter places, and the teacher didn’t have a clue where they were and told me to be quiet.”

The primary school teacher told the seven or eight-year-old that there was nothing in those places, which made him curious to investigate.

More than 300 countries later, he certainly has investigated, as well as forming deep friendships through English Language Partners’ voluntary work.

Wall hangings depicting David Horne and his travels

Writer: Sharon Fowler | Photos Blake Armstrong

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