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

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Bully Hostfamilies - My Experiences

Being Victimized by Language Banditry
Bully Host Families – My Experiences

When we are studying abroad as language students in a country where the local language is something other than our own native tongue, what are the reasons for deciding to do a homestay as opposed to living in someplace like a foreign student dormitory? The answer is simple. Not only to be totally immersed in the target language all the time, but also to be forced to use the target language all the time in many different situations. For any keen and serious language learner, it is precisely this kind of totally immersive environment which is necessary for mastery of the target language. And so for most people the reason for doing a homestay is to feel the effects of this kind of total immersion. That is why they pay their hard earned bucks.

However, despite the fact that the language student has chosen a homestay for the very reason of this kind of immersion, there are some “host families from hell” who are only out to fulfil their own personal objectives. I have even heared sad stories of language students who, after 6 months or more of living with a language rapist host family, they have still not learned anything because the family refused to speak anything but English! I don’t know what you think but I find this rather alarming. Some people laugh at me when I mention the notion of the language bandit or language rapist, but this kind of exploitation at the hands of abusive host families is clearly an issue which should not at all be trivialized. It is indeed very serious.

Once I was told that in Japan some Japanese host families will refuse to accept any students of Chinese or Korean race. At the time, I suspected that the reason for this type of absurd way of thinking was because some Japanese people still refuse to forget the brutal histories of Asia and as a consequence continue to see people from those countries as Enemies. Of course now I suspect something completely different. Now that I have been told by other European students about their stories in which their Japanese host families completely dismissed their objectives and used them constantly and blatantly as a means of English language practice for the full 6 months, I now realize that there may be a high possibility that those Japanese families, who refuse to take in students from any other Asian country, may in fact refuse to accept them because they know that they will not offer them the same opportunities to selfishly leach some English practice as a fluent European or American would. Yes it is another example of Language Banditry. In Japan (and also in many other places), it would seem that a relatively small (but still significant) minority of host families are only out there for their own personal English practice despite the fact that the foreign student is there precisely for language immersion of his/her own. As you can see, even within host families those wicked and parasitic Language Bandits exist. And it is when they exist within our host families that we are made to suffer most.

My Bully Hostmother Obahan, her attitude towards me and our conflict of interests

Now I will write about my own experiences with my host family in Japan. Some people trivialize the matter of Language Banditry, and some people even deny its existence. But this account of my experiences will reveal that some aspects of Language Banditry can become really serious and cause real suffering. In particular, I will write about a conflict I had with one family member who took an abusive attitude towards me because my “All Japanese all the time policy” just happened to conflict with her objective of using me for English conversation practice. For the purpose of this anonymous blog, we will refer to her throughout the entire blog as “Obahan”. She was the mother of the host family, typically aggressive, seemingly self-orientated and the only member of the family who could at least manage the basics of the English language. Unfortunately for me, Obahan held the idea that English is somehow “necessary for survival in the real world” (as opposed to the fake world?) as she would put it and constantly would tell other people in the family about the importance of English. Although being Japanese she would never say this, it was obvious that she thought herself to be above other Japanese people for having learned the basics of English. And as you probably know already, I don’t take kindly to show-offs, especially language show-offs. Although her level of English wasn’t almost zero like that of most Japanese people, her English wasn’t particularly good and I was able to attain a superior level of Japanese with even less that a year of studying the language.

Well, being an individual who from the start displayed many symptoms of the typical Language Bandit such as aggression and selfishness, the way Obahan viewed me was not surprising at all. When she received the documents from the language school including my own profile, I can only imagine what kind of predictions she had about me. A European whose native language is English and wishes to come to Japan to gain fluency in Japanese. She must have licked her lips like a salivating dog being given a steak and must have predicted that I would be all hers to be used for English language practice. Because I was a European as opposed to an Asian, she most likely had predicted (wrongly) that I would be very unskilled in the Japanese language, and as a consequence, would have to depend on English during my stay with the host family, therefore leaving her with a perfect opportunity to bleed some more English out of another European student.

As her prediction, it would seem that Obahan automatically had thought that, being a native Anglophone speaker, I would have knowledge of nothing more than merely the very basics of Japanese. What leads me to believe that this was the case was the way she spoke to me as if I were a child when she met me for the first time, the way that she would constantly ask me in a patronizing manner whether or not I understand what she is saying and the way that she asked me if I needed to have the list of things to do, maps and such written in Romaji as opposed to Kanji. From this kind of treatment upon meeting her for the first time, it seems clear that she had not expected that I would be able to speak Japanese well at all.

When I look back with the hindsight of knowing her and her Language Bandit personality throughout the whole stay, I can only think that the fact that Obahan had predicted that I would be totally incapable of already knowing Japanese to a functional level was in fact all down to her “wishful thinking”. In other words, when she was informed that a native Anglophone would be doing a homestay at her house, it seems most likely that she had WANTED that Anglophone to be poor at Japanese and that she had hoped for a monolingual Anglophone student. Of course for the purpose of the betterment of her own English. So not only expecting my Japanese to be bad to the extent of being almost nonexistent, but also WANTING it to be bad so that she could bleed me of English practice, she took the aforementioned patronizing attitude towards me from the very first time we met. She kept on asking me whether I need to have her instruction repeated in English, of course in a demanding and pressing tone.

However, little did she know that the European student who had just arrived at her house would turn out to be in fact fully functional in the Japanese language, would possess a formidable knowledge of Chinese Characters already into the thousands, would have a command of a vocabulary which could intimidate her English vocabulary by far and would have even attempted to deepen his knowledge of the local dialect even before his arrival. Contrary to Obahan’s unfounded and wishful predictions, this was the truth! This was me! Even though Obahan at first was so delusional in her belief that I couldn’t possibly speak Japanese well and, as a consequence, would leave her with a little bundle of English practice, or easy prey so to speak, she soon became aware of the striking reality that I in fact was more than able to handle myself formidably in the Japanese language, and from that point onwards, on realizing that she wasn’t going to get that little submissive English speaking lapdog which she had desired so much and that it was going to be unlikely that she would be able to bully me for English practice, her attitude towards me changed from patronizing, to AGGRESSIVE. The tone of here voice changed to aggressive. She made me feel unwelcome immediately and I was left wondering why her attitude towards me was like this. I immediately got the feeling that I wasn’t wanted and felt uncomfortable in the house because of her actions. It was obvious that she started to lose patience as I kept disproving her prediction by showing more and more that I had a formidable command of the language. And it took me a few weeks living there to find out the reason why she had acted like this. What could be seen in her face most of all was her disappointment on knowing that, contrary to her predictions, her desire to have easy English Language prey in her house had not materialized. Now with hindsight I know exactly why Obahan hadn’t welcomed me with a warm reception.

As one would expect, her attitude towards me didn’t calm down. It continued. It seems like she thought that because she hadn’t gotten what she had wanted, she might as well ruin it for everyone else. I had heared horror stories from Anglophones who had been banditted during the whole time of their homestays, but I had never heared anything about what I was experiencing. A bandit who takes an aggressive attitude towards me only because it is bitter that it cannot bandit me or because it has lost the opportunity to bandit me. This was a new one for me. This was also quite an unpleasant experience for me too. Her bitter antics lead me to believe that language bullying or bullying related to language issues does in fact exist and IS a very serious issue.

Her bullying continues

For example, when I encountered a word in conversation which I didn’t understand, in contrast to the other family members who were always willing to explain to me the meaning of the word and show me the Kanji for that same word so that I could memorize it for future purposes (the kind of attitude that a host family is supposed to take towards its language students), bitter and mean Obahan would always yell at me unkindly for not understanding even one freaking word, then would announce to everyone that “the idiot doesn’t understand anything”, and then in a derisive manner she would shake her head in disgust. While I never had any problems being understood by anyone else in the family, she would often claim that she couldn’t understand me. However, when I said exactly the same thing to another person like grandmother for example, I was understood straight away! She really was bitter that her opportunity to bully English out of someone had somehow been “wasted”. At the same time when everyone else was talking amongst themselves about how out of all the students who had done a homestay with the family, thus far I was the one with the highest level and that going out with me wasn’t a burden like it was with other students who often got into problems due to communication barriers, Obahan was saying things like, “I lied to you dad again on the phone. I told him that your Japanese was good and has improved”. And then she would say other things like I don’t have it in me to become a translator. Notice a pattern? All of her attacks were aimed at my language skills! A show of her bitterness!

Of course for anyone who is a bit on the shy side, or even socially awkward like me, this kind of treatment can be a real blow to our confidence. Never mind just a blow to my confidence, because I was always in fear of getting into another conflict with her and ended up feeling that it was necessary to avoid her as much as I could, I started to feel that she was making my life miserable with her constant and reasonless bullying.

The effect of constant and inescapable in-family bullying on me – Alcohol abuse

Despite the fact that during the 5 years before arriving in Japan I hadn’t even had one alcoholic beverage and had always viewed the consumption of alcohol negatively (because I don’t like it and it makes me ill), I became so miserable because of her treatment to the extent that I started to get drunk almost every night as a way to cope with stress and also as a way of avoiding her. And all because of her selfish and bitter conduct which was in turn driven by her lingering disappointment of not being able to use me as a tool for English practice. Now can you say that Language Banditry and Language Bullying aren’t serious issues? Now do you still believe that the deeds of Language Bandits are just trivial matters which do no one any serious harm? Man, I was driven to alcohol abuse because of the torment of Language Banditry!

Oh, so now my attitude is morally wrong and I am the real sinner?

It doesn’t stop their! On top of her blatant aggressive attitude towards me, I was constantly criticized and lectured on why my attitudes were somehow wrong. Again only by bitter and jealous Obahan. That was when it all came clear to me. That was when I realized that her ill-treatment of me was all down to her frustration of not being able to use me as a tool for English practice. It eventually became the case that our conversations were becoming more and more centered around my “all Japanese all the time” attitude, which, according to Obahan, was unfair and somehow wrong. In case you don’t know, when I am overseas for the purpose of language study, I make a point of speaking nothing but the target language. And rightfully so! That is why I am overseas anyway. Obahan would always just yabber on incessantly about how “Ruuku (myself the author of this blog) selfishly speaks nothing but Japanese. And for that he is selfish. And that there are many Japanese people out there who really want to speak English. And that Ruuku MUST speak with them in English”. Can you believe what this silly and bitter woman was saying! She was basically telling me that I should let people use me as a tool! She was telling me that I should give in to the very people who I am fighting against! By the way, if those people really want to speak English, they can quite easily do so through the likes of Skype instead of harassing all white people in the vicinity. There really is no need to harass every white person you come across who may LOOK LIKE he/she might be an English speaker! (Please make reference to Fourth Reason why I feel indignant in the previous blog).

Although I mentioned to her that I will speak nothing but Japanese all the time and explained that I am here to learn the language and that I take learning very seriously, I never talked about my hatred for Language Banditry. However, our attitudes still conflicted regarding whether or not my “all Japanese all the time” policy was appropriate or not. Of course my attitude clearly was appropriate. The worse thing was that her sermons on why my attitude was wrong and selfish didn’t remain as just words, when I was banditted in front of her by some other language beggar in a public place, she would intervene personally. Let me note that when I was in public with my host family, the times in which my privacy was intruded by English Language Bandits was very rare. However, in the rare cases in which it did happen, despite knowing that I wish to use only the local language, my bully hostmother would always inform me that “the man/woman seems to want to speak English!” It in fact was more like an indirect coercive order than a statement. Of course, to her disgust, I never followed that order! Only to be questioned and publicly humiliated by her! I couldn’t believe that she tried to encourage Banditry against me and tried to make mean speak a certain language against my will IN PUBLIC! Man she was so bitter!

Other Bandits in her sphere of influence

At first I only thought that the awkward conflicts and the bullying happened when I was with her. But I thought wrong. There also were people in her “sphere of influence”. First of all I will provide a little background for these people. Because I am the kind and helpful individual that I am, and because I admire Japanese people who don’t think that English is the only foreign language worth learning and who attempt to learn languages other than English, out of the goodness of my heart I ended up teaching Spanish to a friend of the family who in this anonymous blog we shall call “Onshirazu” (恩知らず). Onshirazu had a similar background in English to that of Obahan, although maybe she was a little less fluent even than Obahan. However, she had recently developed an interest in learning the Spanish language and told me that she felt that she couldn’t do it alone. In other words, she wanted a teacher. I will say it again. Out of the goodness of my own heart I accepted and it became the case that I would teach Spanish to Onshirazu several times per week. This of course was under the condition that the teaching would be conducted entirely by means of the Japanese language (as opposed to English) including grammatical explanations. Basically I said I would do it as long as she agreed that the default language was going to be nothing but Japanese.

Despite the fact that I was helping her so much while asking for nothing in return, our teacher-pupil relationship and my visits to her house to teach her soon became very tedious. But of course back then I was too polite to back out or even say anything. She was basically taking advantage of and abusing my goodwill and kindness. It wasn’t long before Onshirazu and her family started to blatantly bandit me out of English. She just couldn’t settle for my Spanish instruction alone, had to get to greedy and basically spat all my benevolence back in my face like a blatant insult! That is why here in this blog we are referring to her as Onshirazu! It is the Japanese word for “ungrateful”. And then when I made it clear that I don’t speak English with anyone, she started to do that really annoying thing in which they mix English and Japanese together in the same sentence. An example sentence would be, “あなたのlawyerにbig moneyをpayします”. Naturally I was furious because I wanted to be exposed only to natural Japanese. Of course I didn’t have time for any of those messed up mixes. And I was pretty disgruntled that they weren’t taking me seriously and were treating me different because of my mother tongue. This was a blatant violation of our agreement and a complete disregard for my kindness. I was actually sacrificing my own time and energy for the sake of this woman FOR NOTHING IN RETURN, and they still wanted more from me! Can you believe their ungratefulness!

Of course, since these ungrateful people were in fact best friends with Obahan, my bully host mother, using my Anti-Language Banditry strategies was out of the question. This group of people were keeping a track on me and anything I did. No lie! No matter what it was, it always got reported back to Obahan. If had had chosen to use the Kohei strategy in which the victim of Language Banditry refuses to acknowledge anyone unless addressed in the local language (in fact with the Kohei method the banditry victim blatantly ignores any comments and even the very existence of the bandit until conservation is resumed in the local language), Obahan would have found out and would have given me grief about it. Remember, she was already strongly against my “all Japanese all the time” attitude and her criticism was always carried out in an aggressive and intimidating manner. Similarly, I couldn’t just tell the Bandits to shut the hell up and to stop abusing my kind patience because again any kind of rudeness would be reported to Obahan. In effect, my bully host mother Obahan had become some kind of pro-Language Banditry policeman figure, stopping me from resisting against the leaches, and causing me more crap in my life.

Is a homestay really the best option?

Previous to my stay in Japan, I had believed that living with a host family really was the best option for accommodation as my experiences with any previous host families had been excellent. However, now that I have found out for myself the potential extent of not only language banditry but also underhanded tactics which can exist even within host families, I am considering very deeply whether or not host families are always the best option. If you get a good host family, you are lucky and have no problems. Your time abroad will most probably be productive and enjoyable. You will be introduced to many friends through the family and will be socially happy. In that case congratulations. However, if you end up with a family of self-orientated users who have the sole objective of abusing students for English language practice, life will undoubtedly be really tough and even unpleasant. Signing up for a host family is always a gamble. You could either be fortunate or unfortunate. So it is something to think about long and hard. With the homestay option, you will be close to natives. But is it worth it when you are totally controlled by the family? Is it worth it at the expense of not being able to even put up any resistance against the people who bandit you? I know that if I had not taken the homestay option, I would have been able to use my anti-bandit strategies against anyone instead of just being forced to tolerate the crap from the parasitic bandits like Onshirazu. At least with the student dormitory option, we have no “boss” to answer to, and are free to completely ignore (Kohei method), confront, confute, argue or fight anyone who is trying to rape us for English practice. Basically whatever means you chose to defend yourself from the evil of Language Banditry, if you don’t have a controlling and banditting host family, you are free to do it.
So, if we consider this last point, what is probably the safest option? Host family? Or student dormitory? Before making a decision, please think it through very seriously.

1 comment:

  1. I very much enjoyed reading your account. It has been several years since you wrote it, so I hope you stuck one on Obahan and made it as a successful translator, if that continued to be what you wanted to do.