The UK has announced plans for a new set of laws on migrant spouses, which will see them tested on their English skills after 2.5 years, and their visa terminated if they are found to be lacking English skills. David Cameron is selling this as both a law to empower Muslim women, and also to help fight terrorism.

This law is so stupid and cruel it is unbelievable, and the language being used to justify it is so heartless and idiotic it’s hard to believe that anyone takes it seriously. Is this a paper-thin veneer on another stupid racist law, or are the Tories genuinely so stupid that they think this law is worthwhile in any way? Sadly, I think it might be the latter. In any case, the law is both cruel and pointless.

The law is a heartless abomination

I don’t know if Cameron can speak any second languages (most Brits can’t) but if he can my guess is that he’s passable in some kind of dialect of English, like French. I live in a country (Japan) with a language completely different to English, which any adult learner (like me) has to really battle with, and which is absolutely essential if you want to really enjoy the life this country has to offer. I know a lot of people who manage to contribute significantly to this country without every learning a single word, and I know a lot of British migrants here – many with spouses – who contribute nothing to this country but still haven’t learnt a word of the language. There are many reasons why adult migrants to Japan don’t, won’t or can’t learn a word of the language, but here are a few:

  • Some people just can’t learn languages: In my intensive course I had a good friend, Ali, who was fluent in Arabic and English but couldn’t learn a word of Japanese no matter how he tried, and he really did try. I had another friend, Rana, who was a great reader and listener who couldn’t speak a word. This isn’t because they were stupid or ignorant – both knew at least two languages already, and were qualified doctors – but because learning a new language as an adult is really fucking hard. Sure, if the language is basically just a variant on your existing tongue – like Korean to Japanese, or French to English – it’s not hard, but if it’s genuinely different – like English is to a lot of people – then learning it is really challenging
  • There are no opportunities: I cannot stress what an exhausting waste of time it is to try and learn a language in all its depth and complexity from a few hours a week of poor-quality teaching at a night school. In a country like Japan it is almost impossible for most people to find a class for more than an hour or two a week, it’s even harder to find a class that is taught well, and it’s even harder to stick with it when you have a full time job, family, etc. Many of the white people in Japan are English teachers, which means they work evenings and weekends in an exhausting job. The idea that they will put in hours of intensive study at weird times to pick up a language is really stretching it. In the UK, the Cameron government has massively cut funding for English teaching. What are the chances that a poor migrant spouse who doesn’t need the language will be able to find a class?
  • Learning languages sucks: It’s tiring, boring, and often humiliating and the teachers are often really poor quality. There’s always someone else in your class who should be in a higher class and humiliates the students with his (it’s always a he!) skills, and a lot of what you learn is irrelevant to actual life. Many classes require you to perform your piss-weak language skills in front of others, and you’re constantly screwing up and embarrassing yourself. Then you go out into the real world and none of the language people use with you is taught in class (this is a universal problem). Try to keep that up for 2.5 years!
  • You don’t need the language to contribute to society: A challenge for shallow Tories like Cameron to comprehend, but you can actually contribute to society without being able to speak a word of its weird gobbledigook. From the trivial – working hard and paying taxes – to the culturally deep – writing books that introduce the culture to other societies – it’s possible to contribute without ever learning a word. In Japan I have known people who are having multiple children (a big contribution here), who are working wonders in their chosen field, or who are big figures in a movement to popularize the works of a famous writer. I know people who have lived here for years, never learnt a word, and have children who are fluent in Japanese, speak no English, and are really engaged with the local culture. How do those parents compare to a wife-beating Japanese pachinko addict who speaks perfect Japanese? Language is a useful tool but a welcoming and accepting society doesn’t need you to speak it in order to contribute.
  • Adult life betrays your efforts: No doubt whatever patois of crappy French Cameron speaks, he picked up in high school, when he had all the time in the world, and anyway it was easy. But could he learn Pakistanian if he lobbed up in Pakistan as an adult, living with his wife and kids, working a 40+ hour week and only hanging around with Pakistanis who spoke fluent English? I think you might find that he could not learn a word, because he doesn’t have time for serious study, none of his friends expect him to, it’s embarrassing to struggle to say hello in Pakistanian to someone who can debate the Quran with you in English, and when he’s at home he speaks English exclusively because wtf?

For all these reasons, it’s really common to find adults who are really committed to the country they moved to but who don’t speak a word of its native language, or are only dabblers in the complexity of that language. Even people who are determined to learn, as adult learners, will be struggling to get their language together in 2.5 years. But despite all their efforts and the vagaries of life as an adult in the modern world, Cameron aims to deport these people. His reasons are so horribly shallow, as well. Today he said:

If you’re not able to speak English, not able to integrate, you may find therefore you have challenges understanding what your identity is and therefore you could be more susceptible to the extremist message coming from Daesh

This is a hilarious piece of stupidity. If you’re staying home, not learning a word of English, and a woman in a traditionalist Islamic family, chances are that you have a very strong identity centred around hearth and home, and there’s almost zero chance you’ll be susceptible to extremist ideology. It’s fascinating to see a party that has traditionally respected the role of housewife (and criticized feminists for undermining that role) suggesting that such an important and powerful cultural figure would “have challenges understanding” their identity. Is this really the party of Thatcher? Was Thatcher ever so cruel? Because rest assured this law is cruel. But it is also pointless.

This law is pointless

Cameron seems to think that deporting the wives of Muslim migrants after 2.5 years is going to prevent terrorism. Maybe he really hates his wife, so much that he wouldn’t resent the government if it took her from him after 2.5 years, or maybe he’s just really ignorant, but does he not think that separating families on completely arbitrary grounds might possibly be a source of radicalization? Even putting aside the obvious counter-productive images (and court cases) we’ll be seeing in 2.5 years’ time, there are so many reasons why this law is targeted at all the wrong people. For starters, all the people we know of who were radicalized in the UK appear to have been born there, and seem to speak really good English that the “intelligence” services try to track down by using a database of regional British accents. Secondly, it’s likely that the standard they set for staying in the UK is going to be pretty low, and well below the level at which it is possible to debate nuances of religious theory, so it’s unlikely that whatever English skills the spouses learn will be sufficiently advanced to enable us to engage with them to prevent radicalization, or for them to be exposed to anti-radicalization messages by chance. Thirdly, if the reason they’re being held back from learning English is “patriarchy” as Cameron suggests[1], it’s unlikely that the spouses are the people we have to worry about in the first place.

Finally, of course, Cameron previously introduced a law that requires migrants to the UK to have a certain minimum amount of savings before they can bring their spouse. This amount is high enough that it’s unlikely your average Middle Eastern migrant will be able to bring their spouse over in the first place unless they’re from a social class that already speaks English really well – or are a refugee. Which means that this law is going to break up refugee families in 2.5 years’ time – as if they hadn’t been through enough hoops just to get to the UK. A cynic would suggest that was his purpose all along …

This cruel stupidity would make UKIP blush

Immigration policy under the Tories has been moving into the gutter over the past few years. The savings requirements for bringing one’s spouse over are vicious, nasty policy that achieves nothing at the expense of perfectly legitimate relationships between British people and their foreign lovers. These laws are absolutely reprehensible, unjustifiable nastiness. The new proposal simply adds a new level of viciousness to a migration system that is vindictive and petty beyond all reason. All of this is being done because Cameron is desperate to show he is tough on migrants without actually touching the main source of UK voters’ apprehensions about migration: Europe. Cameron is campaigning for the UK to stay in the EU even though most of the British public are skeptical, and even those who want to stay in the EU want to see the end of the rules on free movement. He can’t do that and keep his business mates happy, so he needs to try and show he is doing something to keep out migrants to counterbalance his weakness on this issue. But the real source of British fears about jobs and benefits is EU migration, not a couple of badly spoken Muslim wives. Publicly humiliating those women will work for him in the short term, but will it fool grassroots Tories in the referendum? Or will we see the UK leave the EU even as it introduces ever harsher, ever stupider rules on non-EU migrants?

I think we will. And I think those rules will be a disaster to ordinary families, and will do nothing to prevent extremism.

fn1: Good to see a once radical idea becoming a mainstream conservative principle. I’m looking forward to mandatory gay sex abortions for all British citizens now that the Tories have found their radfem groove.

I have a colleague – let’s call her Miss P – who lived in Australia for a few years, in Melbourne and Perth, and has a bank account there (with ANZ). She had some questions today about her account, and has tried calling a few times but is daunted by the English required, so today I called on her behalf. What followed is a classic example of the excellence of Australian service.

Stage 1: The General Line

We called the general help line, and a middle-aged-sounding woman answered the phone.

  • Me: explains situation, asks first question
  • Her: Gives slightly confusing answer, then says “But actually, it’s probably just easier for Miss P if she calls the overseas line, because they’ll be able to find her an interpreter.” Gives me number.
  • Me: Perfect! Thank you. We’ll try that.

This is cool! So off we go…

Stage 2: The Overseas Line

We call the overseas line. A youngish-sounding chap answers, and after my explanation he transfers me to some other department in customer service. Here I’m greeted by another middle-aged-sounding woman with a very strong Australian accent.

  • Me: explains situation and asks for interpreter
  • Her: Oh yes, we can definitely do that. What you need to do is call Miss P’s bank branch, and they’ll find her one [what is this, every ANZ branch has a UN office inside it?]
  • Me: Okay, could you tell me the number
  • Her: tells me the number, then says “How about I transfer you? Just a moment.”

Unfortunately, the phone cut off (we’re using Skype). So … we call directly.

Stage 3: The Local Branch

So we’re calling a bank branch in Perth. Let’s just get that clear right now. Another middle-aged-sounding woman answers the phone, and has a very broad accent and speaks slowly and clearly. Excellent. I don’t think she’s going to be our interpreter though…

  • Me: explains situation and how we just got cut off. “I was told you could maybe arrange an interpreter?”
  • Her: Ooooh, mmmm, I don’t think we do that here, but just a mo [<- she actually said this], I’ll see if anyone here can help
  • Me: Okay, thank you …
  • …. long period on hold …
  • Her: Hello, um I’m sorry but I’ve called around a couple of departments and they don’t seem to have any service like that in this branch.
  • Me: Oh, we were told you would have
  • Her: Well, I don’t think we do. But I tell you what [<- she actually said this], the Surfer’s Paradise branch might have an interpreter. There’s a lot of Japanese up there! Hold on a mo [<- she actually said this] and I’ll give it a go [<- she actually said this].
  • … short period on hold …
  • Her: Hello! We’ve found someone in Surfers [<- she actually said this]. I’ll just put you through…

Now, just for clarity for my foreign reader(s), Perth is in, well, Perth is in Perth. Surfer’s Paradise is in Queensland. This is the opposite end of the country. This is literally, actually, like someone in London saying “just a moment, I’ve found a Russian speaker in our Moscow branch. I’ll just transfer you.” That’s the distance involved here.

Stage 4: “Surfers”

So we get transferred to “Surfers” and this time we don’t get cut off. A moment later a youngish-sounding woman answers the phone.

  • Her: Hello, this is M [<-Japanese name] speaking, do you need a Japanese speaker?
  • Me: Yes I do, my colleague Miss P needs to ask some questions and it would be much easier for her if she can do it in Japanese. Are you the interpreter.
  • Her: Yes I am, please put her on the line
  • Miss P: もしもし、Mと申します。よろしくお願いします

The conversation proceeds as I write this. Miss M had a Japanese accent mixed with ‘Strayan, a phenomenon that is extremely funny. She must have lived in “Surfers” for quite a while. And so, international communication was able to proceed smoothly …

How good is that service?

On a related note, my ‘Strayan is sometimes hard for my students to understand. The other day, while speaking to my Chinese student, who is doing a dynamic model of HIV epidemiology in China but is concerned she has overestimated the price of needle syringe programs, we had the following exchange:

  • Me: Are you using the retail price of needles?
  • Her: Um…
  • Me: ???
  • Her: What do you mean “retile”?
  • Me: [putting on my international accent] Oh, “retale” means an object sold through a normal shop, not like through a big warehouse
  • Her: Oh, you mean “retail!” Oh yes, I’m using the retail price, but even if I …

If I influence someone’s english long enough, they’ll even pick up the lilt… “I’m goin’ to the hospital to die…”

I learnt a strange new Japanese word today, while scanning through the commencement documents for my new job. In Japanese one can add the word “ka” (化) to a noun to add the meaning “-ification” to the end of the noun. For example, the word ango means “cipher, code” so angoka is “encryption.” The word genkin means cash, and some companies here offer credit card genkinka, in which you can get cash from a card that doesn’t directly offer you a cash withdrawal service (presumably you buy a 1000 yen pen at a hugely exaggerated price and keep the difference). In this case the literal translation would be “cashification.”

Japanese also offers many imports from foreign words, and one such word is “paperless.” You could probably write this in Japanese as something like mushisei (無紙), which would translate literally as “essence of no paper” but this is never done – one always says “Paperless.” So today, my work informed me that they are going to communicate official matters to me primarily by email for purposes of … paperlesska. That’s right, they’re paperless-ifying the office. This is an official word in Japanese: paperless-ification.

Imagine Judge Dredd as a desk cop in Japan: “This office has been paperless-ified!”

Incidently, this ka is also the bake in bakemono, a word all role-players should know: bake is the stem of the verb “to corrupt.” In the Japanese language, words meaning change or transformation can have many bad meanings. For example, “troublesome” is literally written as taihen (大変), the characters for “big change” and a strange person is a hen na hito, literally a changed person. I think this is one of the ways in which the conservatism (in the literal sense of that word) of Japanese society and culture shows directly through language.

Anyway, as a form of corruption, both of the English language and of office practice, I think “paperless-ification” is an excellent idea!

This is a technical post, to help people who like me have been struggling with MS Word and Japanese text.

I’ve decided to switch to doing preparation for my warhammer 3 campaign in Japanese, just so I get used to the language a little more. But I want to put furigana over the words I am not familiar with, so I don’t have to look at separate tables of vocabulary while I’m gaming (warhammer vocabulary is really really weird). Unfortunately, furigana don’t have an automatic menu option in MS Word for Mac OS X the way they do for MS Word in Windows. I did a search on how to get furigana to work on a mac, and found this advice:

  • Install a software package called the MS Office Language Register on your Apple
  • Drag the MS Word application onto the language register icon in the applications folder
  • Choose your language
  • You can then access the furigana using the Format->Phonetic Guide option (see below)

The language register program is on your MS Office disk in the “Additional Tools” folder.

I tried this and my MS Word slowed down to a crawl, which on a computer like the one I’m using is a thoroughly unacceptable phenomenon. I tried uninstalling the language register but this didn’t help. So, what to do?

I’m sure other people have this problem (that Word is slow after installing the language register), and if you do then the reason is probably the same as mine:

  • The Language Register is already installed when you do a full install of MS Office
  • When I read on the internet “install the language register” I naturally did so by dragging and dropping it into my applications folder
  • It actually needs to be in /Applications/MS Office/Additional Tools
  • If you install it in the applications folder you’ll have two versions of the software, and your computer will die horribly, in the arse (as they say)

So, my guess is that for most people out there the best way to get furigana on word in mac os is:

  • Check in the /Applications/MS Office/Additional Tools folder for the language reference software
  • If it’s not there, drag and drop it there from the install disc
  • Once it’s there, drag the MS Word application onto it
  • Choose the language you want to use
  • Bob’s your uncle, MS Word will have the power to apply furigana without any pain or slowness at all

Note that when you do this, some of the menus in word (e.g. print) turn Japanese, so you need to have some familiarity with Japanese computer menus (or know the layout of the menus in your sleep) to survive this bit.

Applying furigana

Applying furigana is a little more tricky than in windows. You need to do the following:

  • Highlight the word of interest
  • Select the Format->Phonetic Guide option
  • In the text box at the top, type in the hiragana
  • Click apply (or apply to all)

Note you need to type the hiragana yourself, not like in word.

Note there is an “apply to all” option, that you can use to have the furigana through the whole document; you will need to do this once the words are all written (I think).

To remove hiragana you need to do the same thing, but select “remove”. I think this applies to all words in the document instantly.

So it’s a bit trickier than Windows but not hard.

A note on rikaichan

Get it. It will change your life. You can save word documents you don’t understand into html and then open them in firefox, and your life will never be the same. Plus you can read newspapers without having to learn 3500 kanji, which makes it a lot easier to practice reading.