This blog is for foreign language enthusiasts who, when are abroad for the purpose of foreign language study, are often bullied by people who see us not as fellow human beings, but merely as a means to get English practice. We call this phenomena Language Banditry. If you are sick of being harassed by language beggars, you are welcome here

Monday, March 9, 2009

Being Victimized by Language Banditry - Reasons to feel Indignant

Being Victimized by Language Banditry
Reasons to feel indignant

Before I explain why I feel indignant about the Language Banditry phenomena, first of all I would like the reiterate what kind of person I am, what my interests are and what the purposes of my overseas travels are. If you have taken interest in my blog chances are that you may have found yourself in my situation at least once already and may be quite similar to myself.
By pure chance I just so happened to be born in a country which forms a part of the English speaking world, and as a consequence, because of reasons out of my control, I happened to be raised in that country as a native English speaker. As we all know, I ended up being raised to speak natively the language which, due to historical reasons, has spread considerably across the globe and to some extent has even taken the role as a global lingua franca, again due to no action of my own.

As a consequence of this relatively large scale global spread, many native Anglophones show little interest or seriousness to language learning. However, although I may have been born as a native English speaker, I am certainly a language learner with great enthusiasm and drive for languages who passionately strives to become a formidable polyglot. In fact never mind enthusiastic, I am totally obsessed with and fascinated with my languages to the extent that language study has arrived to be the very center of my life.

However, like I have explained before, although my path towards my ambitious goals will never be obstructed and cut off by the deeds of Language Bandits, the ease of completing that path until my desired learning outcome is less than that of non-Anglophones because of what I was brought up to speak by no fault of my own. Yes when we are abroad some groups of people, all be it relatively small groups, disregard our own objectives, and view us simply as means to their own wants whether they be language practice, showing off or whatever.

I mentioned when we are abroad didn’t I. Well being the earnest and hand working language enthusiast that I am, I travel overseas specifically for the purpose of furthering my command of my target languages in their real life environment. Whenever I am in a good financial state through the hours and hours of overtime of my part time job, I use my hard earned bucks to participate in the likes of homestays and immersion programs at language schools abroad. However, despite the totally “immersive” experience which I desire, my path is often made more difficult by Language Bandits who target me, again just because I accidently was raised to speak the language that everyone wants a piece of.

Before we start, let me note that their banditting actions do not impede my path to fluency severely (although unfortunately they do for some other poor souls who happen to be trying to study languages of countries abundant with people who are proficient second language English speakers), in my case because luckily I am studying the language of “low English proficiency” country, their deeds only cause me uneasiness, some mental stress and socialization issues, namely trust issues in everyday life. I will mention these later on.

First Reason why I feel indignant

They don’t even consider that I too may have personal objectives, but they want to use me as a means to their own.

Like I have just mentioned in my personal description, the reason why I work so hard putting in hour after hour of labour is to get enough ¥¥ to be able to travel abroad and participate in language immersion programs in the first place. And naturally I have objectives of my own pertaining to these kinds of language programs. In the world of work and business too it is the same. One’s objective is to make a living and then if possible to make a little more money for some luxuries and such. Would you compromise your money making objective and spend your hard earned bucks on a lazy parasite tramp who harassed you in the street? No! I didn’t think so! Then why should I compromise my language immersion objectives and allow others to bleed me of language practice just because I by chance was raised to speak English? I shouldn’t. They have done nothing for me and I shouldn’t feel obliged to do anything for them free of charge just because I was burdened with this English language from childhood. Remember, we owe nothing to anybody free of change at the expense of our own objectives. Remember, those who feel they can demand or put pressure on us for language practice without giving anything in return are equal to that begging tramp. Our reactions towards both should be the same!

Well it seems I won’t compromise my objectives just for their benefit and rightfully so. In the case of being part of a language exchange program at a foreign university, we native Anglophones may be befriended falsely and dishonestly by bandits for the sole reason of English practice or targeted as soon as an opportunistic bandit sees our Caucasian faces. I bet that while he/she is caught up in a frenzy of excitement on believing he/she has a chance to bleed us of some English practice or to show off depending on his/her motives, he/she is not at all considering in the slightest what our personal objectives may be! I mean, why on earth else would we be on a language exchange program at a foreign university? Has it even occurred to the bandit that we too have our own language based objectives and are not only there to be spoken at in English for their convenience? Has it not even come to the bandit’s mind that the meaning and reason of our very existence in his/her university may well be something other than to be used for his/her personal gains? Judging by their predatory and opportunistic conduct, these thoughts most likely haven’t even came across their mind at all. This shows that the bandit has acted on solely his/her own objectives and this of course reveals his/her selfish nature. The fact that this person has completely disregarded what could possibly be our objectives to the extent that they have thought that we didn’t have any in the first place shows that we can end up treated not as human beings but as a means to a goal. This in its self is a reason to be indignant. Furthermore this is a reason not to give in to them or to humour them or to let them have satisfaction in using us. Remember, if to them our objectives somehow don’t even deserve their thought or consideration, then why is it that they somehow deserve our time for their language objectives?

When I encounter Japanese exchange students in England who are here with the objective of gaining fluency in English, do I dismiss the possibility that they too may have personal objects and do I see them only as prey for my own language advancement? No! Of course not! I am more honest and thoughtful than that and expect others to be as well. I don’t view human beings as something to be used selfishly. Well what do I do? Having considered that they too have language objectives and wish to speak English all the time, even though I like to practice languages like Japanese, I simply understand that their objectives and reasons for being in England must be respected and so I speak to them in English. I mean that is why they have come here to study isn’t it! Please note, to learn a language one doesn’t have to harass all native speakers immediately. That is just self-centered behaviour and disrespectful. In the modern era of today there are so many means to further one’s study without having to resort to banditting all natives in the vicinity. For example Skype. I myself and most other Japanese language students here respect the reason why the Japanese exchange students are here in England, refrain from yelling at them in Japanese and speak English for them. It is just common respect. And of course this is what we ought to do and what anyone ought to do as honest human beings.
But answer this! Why the hell is it that the need for this kind of respect towards language exchange students and their personal language goals all of a sudden doesn’t count when the exchange students are native English speakers? Why the hell is it that we don’t deserve the same treatment? Why the hell is it that the natives at the foreign universities which we attend feel all so trigger-happy when it is English? No! They have no right to violate this kind of common respect! They are NOT exempt from this just because we happen to be English speakers. Just because of the global importance of English doesn’t mean they should be exempt from following simple codes of respect. It doesn’t mean that we should not be taken seriously either. They have no right to use us like this and we shouldn’t put up with it. The fact that back in England I respect the exchange students’ objectives and speak to them in English, yet I don’t get the same treatment when in Japan leaves me with a strong reason to feel indignant. I hate double standards.

Second Reason why I feel indignant

To befriend someone for the exclusive purpose of language practice is dishonest and I don’t tolerate the use of people only as a means to an objective.

As an English Speaking Westerner, being befriended by youngsters who seek our friendship just because we are English speakers is not uncommon in Japan. Many Japanese speaking Westerners who have had extended stays at Japanese universities have told me that they often get fed up with having people wanting to hang around with them or wanting be their friends just so then can speak English. Here the example I have given is Japan, but this is not uncommon anywhere. It is however more common in places where English is somehow seen as exotic or even fetishized.

It is obvious that those who quickly move to befriend us thinking they can get practice are in fact only out to use us. If this wasn’t the case, why is it that in the case of Japan they are only looking to befriend people of European ancestry? Why is it that they show nowhere near as much interest in cultivating friendships with non English speaking Asian people or with any other non English speaking people? The reason is obvious. It is because they won’t get any personal gain from those friendships. So why should we Anglophones accept such false friendship which is seen in the eyes of the Language Bandit as a means to his/her personal goals? The truth is we shouldn’t. Furthermore we shouldn’t feel pressured to tolerate such friendships. Being used for their personal gains is a reason not to humour them or give in.

I was speaking to a friend the other day about the problem of being befriended by many who pretend to be a friend but in reality only want to bleed us of English practice. Just as I have mentioned in the previous paragraph, he noted that the Japanese students who had an interest in English were not making efforts to befriend non-Japanese Asian students, and so when confronted he would carry out some kind of “decency test”. When he suspected that people wanted to hang around with him only to get English practice, he would simply say of course in Japanese, “I am sorry, you are mistaken. I am a native Spanish speaker and don’t know English. But if you still want to chat, we can still chat in Japanese”. Some Japanese students from them onwards took less interest in him. Doesn’t this show that they were just trying to use him? Doesn’t this just show you that those certain individuals believe that knowing English language and willingness to let them speak with us in English are prerequisites for friendship? Don’t you too feel indignant for being befriended falsely and used? Am I the only one who believes that friendship should be based on much more than merely personal gain?

Again it gets worse. Not only are false friendships formed by Language Bandits for personal gain, even relationships are formed in which the bandit will only date people for language practice or to receive help with his/her English. In Japan dishonest girls who specifically seek Anglophone Western boyfriends purely for their English practice are again not uncommon. But when the guy wants some help with his Japanese it is a different story! Sadly some guys will not mind such relationships because they themselves are only after one thing. However, if you are a respectable guy who desires a real and sincere relationship, you will agree that such motives are in fact dishonest acts of Language Banditry. If you believe that using people for selfish reasons is wrong, then you too will agree that the existence those kinds of misleading language practice based relationships is evidence that the phenomena of Language Banditry does in fact exist and can be a severe problem for many.

Third Reason why I feel indignant

Non-Anglophones don’t have to take this harassment, so why the hell should we?

Just like I wrote at the very beginning, we were raised to speak English without any fault of our own. So just because of that why should we be constantly harassed while other foreigners are not? The fact that it is just us who are banditted constantly like this while other foreigners are almost certainly allowed to use the local language is something that makes my blood boil. It is just unfair in my humble opinion. Like I have already mentioned in the final paragraph of the first reason, sometimes it almost feels like our efforts don’t count and when it is English that somebody wants any kind of obvious codes of respect are somehow void.

In relation to this reason, there is one point in particular which just seems to have no justice whatsoever. Even if we Anglophones speak the local language much more proficiently than other students who are non-Anglophones, we are still treat differently and spoken to in English despite having been proven worthy to be spoken to in the local language. I have an example of this from my own experience.

When I was studying at a language school in Japan, owed to hours and hours of intense and obsessive language study, absolute dedication and self-sacrifice to the extent of not having time for a normal social life for almost the entire previous year, I had a much larger vocabulary, knowledge of many more Kanji and more accurate grammar than most people in the school regardless of nationality. As a consequence I could have more complex conversations than many other students. I certainly felt that I had earned the right to be addressed in Japanese. This wasn’t always the case. Some of the higher ranking workers (not teachers but in other positions) at the school would sometimes try to bandit me or do this really frustrating and ridiculous thing in which they would mix English words into Japanese sentences. This is treating me differently. Why were they treating me differently? Well at the same time they were speaking to non-Anglophone foreigners normally in “normal Japanese” despite the fact that they were LESS proficient in the language than me. So doesn’t this suggest that they were treating me differently because of my nationality and my mother tongue, or even because of racial factors? It was almost as if they couldn’t resist dropping at least some English into their conversation with me just because of my nationality. Despite being more fluent than many other students who were spoken to normally, being treated differently because of my mother tongue and nationality was not just a reason to be indignant with the English Language Banditry situation, it was a reason to be infuriated.

Some people say that even though we may be treated a little differently, there is not enough done to us to call it a form of racism, but in some circumstances I disagree. In Asian countries, there are some groups of the population, all be it rather small groups, who will only speak to white people in English even if the white person speaks the local language. And if their level of English isn’t adequate, there are even people who would prefer not to talk at all rather than in the local language as they foolishly believe that they shouldn’t talk to white people in Asian languages. Thank God these groups of people with such illogical and bigoted views and such a pathetic outlook on life are only a margin of the general population. Many are just bitter because they are not multilingual. At least in Japan this is the case. But the fact that these extreme cases do exist shows us that some conflicts related to language use can be construed as racism. I mean, the refusal to use a certain language with people of certain ethnic backgrounds just because they are of a race which you yourself deem to be unable to speak that language owed to, in your mind, racial reasons of course amounts to racism, does it not? Often people are too ready to dismiss the seriousness of this. I however am often sick and tired of being treated different from other foreigners in the country just because my mother tongue happens to be English. Other foreigners are not banditted to the extent to which we are, so I refuse to be.
Fourth Reason why I feel indignant

Even if they really do just want to learn, we are not their only means, English language materials are abundant almost anywhere and so there is no need to use us.

I have spoken to some less informed people about language learning including the issue of Language Banditry, and because they are not keen linguists who have never found themselves in these kinds of situations themselves, they often cannot grasp my points. They say that “they are only trying to learn. They are not doing anything wrong to you” and even “you should just try to help them”. Well they always seem to forget that so am I! Like I said earlier, why am I expected to compromise my objectives for the sake of others who are just out to use me anyway? People who trivialize the idea of Language Banditry or even deny any existence of such a phenomena often make out that those Language Bandits are always innocently just trying to learn while at the same time those people don’t even consider any of the points I have mentioned about using people, etc... In fact there are even times when I am made out to be the “bad guy” for not being a sport and humouring them. Well what I will shortly say makes more sense than those who trivialize the matter.

Firstly the justification that “they are just wanting to learn” is dependant on the premise that they are actually actively studying the language in the first place. Most are not. It is always a high possibility that some people just want to show off and project the idea that they are smart. Nobody likes a show-off, me included. Others just like to feel good about themselves. If they are not studying seriously or actively, then how are they just trying to learn?

If it is the case that the Bandit actually does just want to learn, there is still no excuse just to rape English out of every native speaker you encounter just for the sake of practicing English. With English, it is not as if there are hardly any study materials. However, sometimes we are often criticized for not giving them all of our time because some people make out that talking to us is “their only hope” of learning English. In fact the reality is that there are more than plenty of resources for studying English. In fact they are more abundant than resources for almost any other language. Again as for native speakers, in the highly technological age of today it isn’t difficult at all to encounter uncountable numbers of English speakers via the likes of Skype and such. With all this to help them in their studies, it leaves them with no excuse to have to see every white person as a potential English practice playtoy like so many do. When they do that, they are just getting greedy and seeing us as tools. Because they have so many resources available already and chances to encounter language partners via the internet, I don’t feel guilty when I reject their attempts to bleed me of more English practice.

The fact that most bandits still feel the need to see all white people as opportunities for English practice despite having access to a whole wealth of study materials and language partner exchanges is another reason why I feel indignant when I am banditted. The fact that Bandits and my fellow nationals alike complain that I am being ignorant for not giving in to them, again despite their ocean of available study resources, also strikes me as unfair.

Fifth Reason why I feel indignant

I am often forced into no win conflict situations and often awkward situations in public.

When I am studying abroad, I make a point of speaking nothing but the target language all of the time. And why shouldn’t I? That is why I am there in the first place. I make an effort to live like the people there including only using their language, so why shouldn’t I be treated like one of them? Basically I make speaking only the target language the policy of everyday life. And I stay loyal to that policy no matter what.

However, when my all Japanese all the time policy conflicts with the self-interests of those opportunistic and predatory Language Bandits who only see me as a means to their goals, it often leads to one of those “language battles” in which each person just keeps yelling in the language they wish to speak until one eventually backs down. Though some individuals who have “warmonger personalities” get an exciting kick from those kinds of conflict situations, many people certainly don’t.

When we get into these kinds of conflict situations in which we are pressured, often by a Language Bully, to speak a language that we don’t want to speak, if we are alone in the street for example it is not really a big deal. But because humans are social animals, we often find ourselves in group situations. If we join clubs or teams we end up being in groups. Because pressuring someone to speak X language in public when we are already in a group situation and by doing so causing one of those language conflict situations can cause potentially awkward feelings, doing so seems a little discourteous to me.

A concrete scenario: I am at a sports club with 10 Japanese people and 9 speak nothing but Japanese. One insists on speaking English with me and will refuse to back down. I end up in one of those lose-lose awkward public conflict situations. I come out a loser either way. If I give in to that 1 guy and speak English with him, I firstly betray my own principles of only speaking Japanese all the time and not letting others bully me around. And secondly, I risk isolating the 9 other Japanese people from the conservation. An obvious one. If I resist by just frowning and continuing to speak Japanese I end up looking mean in front of everyone. If in public I use one of my anti-bandit strategies, for example what I call the Kohei method where one just ignores every comment unless addressed in the local language (like some people do), I risk looking like a dick in front of everyone. These kinds of conflict situations IN PUBLIC have a really awkward feeling to them even to the extent that I feel helpless on what to do. And the reason why these kinds of awkward conflict situations occur in the first place is all because of the selfish conduct of the Language Bandit. That is right; we are put in awkward situation and made to feel out of place because of their inconsiderate actions.

Also right here we should also note that there are times when foreign residents or foreign exchange students just want to integrate more and to not always be differentiated because the language they speak happens to be different. The act of demanding in public that foreigners speak a language different from that of the majority group again potentially can in the short term cause feelings of awkwardness and in the long term even feelings of rejection.

Now if you are a “nice guy” like me who hates conflict situations anyway, yet alone these kinds of awkward and embarrassing public displays, the actions of those kinds of Bandits can really have an adverse effect on our emotional states, even our social functioning. If we know that there is always a high possibility that we are going to get caught up in these no win awkward public conflicts, some of us might be dissuaded from or reluctant to get involved with group activities or social events, especially the likes of clubs and societies. Now can you say that the selfish deeds of Language Bandits and Language Bullies and their impact on the some individuals are not serious? Because I cannot ever have a relaxed mind due to fear that one of those awkward public scenarios might arise, I feel indignant because the root of this anxiety again is Language Banditry.

Sixth Reason why I feel indignant

Because I actually respect myself.

I refuse to accept any notion of the stupid foreigner, particularly white Anglophone foreigner, who is only expected to know English. I refuse to acknowledge any ridiculous ideas that Asian languages are too difficult for foreigners. Those ideas alone are just insults themselves. Of course, anyone with an ounce of capacity for logical thinking would say that what languages one can and can’t learn is by no means dependant on race or nationality. Because I actually have respect for myself, I naturally feel annoyed when people insist on using their broken English because they took me for a monolingual fool purely on physical appearance despite the fact that I speak their language well.

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