All content contained within should be restricted to those over-age. Occasionally, suicide and self-harm are mentioned and readers should take care to ensure they are in a safe place - emotionally and physically - before reading. Comments are welcome.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Once Upon A Time... (SBS)

I missed "Once Upon A Time In Cabramatta" last week (a three part series shown on the SBS - the first episode can be found here for a limited time).  It is about the "drug war" in Cabramatta - and of course, the Vietnamese Australians who live there.

As I was looking at Twitter during the advertising, I noticed one unremarkable twit's comment which had been retweeted by another:

"I don't feel sorry for the parents when couldn't be bothered to learn English in 30 yrs they lived here"

OK - to be fair - I was brought up with this attitude.  Then for a while, I decided that it was racist, but as I didn't know why I thought it was racist, I just tried not to have an attitude at all.

Then I moved to a country where I knew not one word of their language, and I lived there for eighteen months.  And I can tell you a few things about that.

For starters - I doubt these parents do not know "any" English, but for sure I don't blame them one iota for not wanting to speak in English on television.  I know that if I had continued to live in Japan, there would never ever come a day when I would feel comfortable speaking in public in a language that was not my first.  It would just never happen.  Thus, I don't presume to know whether or not they speak English.  It's entirely possible they do.

In keeping with this twit's comment however, I'll move on as though they don't.

Language acquisition is a funny thing.  Most people do not understand that language is not learned by memory.  Language is learned in the first ten years of life, mostly in the first few years.  After THAT, language acquisition is memory.  Feel free to Google it to look up the specifics if you're interested.

This means that while it takes children a few years to learn a new language - they are essentially cheating.  Learning a new language is much harder for adults as we have to rely on memory to do so (at least, until we've practised enough to form new synapses from what I understand).  Each and every adult has a different memory capability.  My own memory can be clinically described as "up the fucking shit".  Which explains why in 18 months, despite buying a tonne of books and practising whenever I could, I learned no more Japanese than it took to get the very basic of basics (and not be swatted by taxi drivers intent on proper formalities - never again shall I say the shortened form of "thank you" to someone I am not familiar with).

And all that is without the added drama of wrapping your head around the fact that it's not just the different words - it's the different grammar!!!  It's not just replacing one word with a different word, but learning how to speak from scratch.

In other words - it's fucking hard if you are not that way inclined.

Thus, one issue with learning English once migrants arrive in Australia is one of technical capability - it is possible that no matter how hard they try, they will simply never acquire conversational English, let alone enough English to feel comfortable speaking in public in the language.

The other issue is one of morality.  I have been finding that white Australians bleat on about "multiculturalism" when in fact, what they want is "white culturalism, but I don't care if your skin is a different colour".

See, I see multiculturalism as being - you live the way you want to and I'll live the way I want to, and we'll visit each other and have fun learning about each other.  Perhaps I'll take some part of your culture into mine and perhaps you'll take some part of mine into yours, but what-the-fuck-ever-works.  In this definition, what language each person is speaking is not important.  Trust me - so long as you've got please and thank-you down pat - you can get by on the universal sign language of facial expressions and general gesture.

This twit has never met these people - so who the fuck cares what language they speak?  What is it to her?  For fucks sake, is compassion and empathy such a limited commodity, that regardless of what language they speak, a little can't be spared for parents whose son turned to drugs and dealing in order to escape a gut-wrenching poverty?

That, my dear, is racist.  Pure, simple, right down the line.  And THAT is at the heart, I imagine, of why such sad stories exist in this country.  It's not a drug problem - that is just the consequence.  It's a fucking racist problem.


  1. "See, I see multiculturalism as being - you live the way you want to and I'll live the way I want to, and we'll visit each other and have fun learning about each other. Perhaps I'll take some part of your culture into mine and perhaps you'll take some part of mine into yours, but what-the-fuck-ever-works. In this definition, what language each person is speaking is not important."

    this is the crux of the issue. Many many thanks Linda @joggleau

  2. Great post! Living in another country can be such an eye opener. It's a sad state when tolerance is such a rare commodity, that said it's a familiar problem in many countries.

  3. Linda, all I can say is your article is spot on! It's embarrassing to think that such ignorant people still exist in this country. It reinforces the fact that our education system is failing us and bigoted parents are brainwashing their children. Racism is embraced by scared, insecure and uneducated fools.


  4. Also, this is a very emotional program. I would imagine those parents can express themselves better in their first language than in English. My dad speaks fluent English and has been doing so since he lived in the US in the 70s. He speaks it perfectly well, but when he wants to say what is in his heart he speaks his first language because it's the language he thinks in and a language more closely in tune with his emotions.

  5. Us English speakers can sometimes take for granted how easy we've got it. We expect that people born and raised in Vietnam will be able to speak to us in English but I don't think many of us would try very hard to speak Vietnamese if we were in Vietnam. There's always someone in every country who will be able to communicate with us in English. So I think some of us don't consider how difficult language acquisition can be. I've seen many people become extremely impatient when someone newly arrived is speaking "broken" English, even the person has made very good progress in acquiring the English language.

  6. Thank you all for your comments.

    It seems that the issue of racism has hit the mainstream press. Regardless of some of the twats that are given a microphone, it is a good thing to debate the issue. Not that there should be debate per se, because when we no longer need debate, we no longer have racism, but while we have racism, it's good that there is debate.

    Because in my ideal world, most racist people are like that out of habit, out of views being passed down from one generation to the next, and out of a lack of thought or a lack of education or a lack of experience. Maybe getting people to really think about the issue might get some of them to understand.

    That, or we could just send every racist to a foreign country for a while ;-)

    One point I would like to make - a lot of commentary is saying that every race, every culture, every country, has racism. This is the racists excuse for being racist - "they're doing it so why can't I?"

    Umm - because you are a big boy/girl now??? If someone else jumped off a cliff, would you do it to?

    What a childish fucking argument... Let's all rise above a little, shall we???