We are all born illiterate.
If you were to wait until you could read to start thumbing through Japanese books, you’d die waiting. If you were to wait until you could read to start owning Japanese books, you’d die waiting.
False: can’t read Japanese ∴ own no Japanese books.
True: own no Japanese books ∴ can’t read Japanese.
They’re waiting to death.
The Japanese government is one of the more hands-on bureaucracies in the world, and I wouldn’t trust them to teach garden variety Yamato kids, let alone ethnic minorities. The HKSAR administration is one of the most laissez-faire in the world; they’re not going to come save the day on this one; that’s not how they work; that’s not what they do 2.
Literacy cannot precede reading material: (access to) reading material must precede literacy. Before you pwn books, you must first own books.
Lack of Japanese knowledge does not cause lack of Japanese books. Lack of Japanese books causes lack of Japanese knowledge. Inability to read Japanese does not cause lack of Japanese books. Lack of Japanese books causes inability to read Japanese. Illiteracy doesn’t cause lack of books. Lack of books causes illiteracy 3.
Before you have the books, not only are you not on the playing field, you don’t even know what the sport looks like. How are you supposed to win at a game you’ve never seen? 4
When you start actually owning Japanese books (and by “own”, what I really mean is, “have instant, 24-hour access to” — that means the books are in the restroom, in the living room, in the bedroom, in the backpack, in the briefcase, by the desk), you give yourself a fighting chance at literacy.
Before you pwn, you must first own. Let yourself win. Get the books before you can read them if you ever want to grow into being able to read them. 5
“But I can’t read them yet!”
Yeah…that’s the point. That’s why you have to have them.
If you want Japanese words to be in your head, first you have to let them into your house…and then into your hands…and then into your eyes…and then, finally, they make it inside the head on their own. 6
What do you want to be illiterate for anyway? Why would you allow that? Why settle? That game sucks, brah. Jut ask those nice folks in Hong Kong. Not cool.
- Personally, I think the word “discrimination” is a bit inappropriate to describe some of the things you see in vids like these. In fact, the irony of all this is that it actually came out of friendly, well-meaning attempts at pluralism and multiculturalism (=the Mother Tongue Education movement).
People aren’t being refused work because they’re not Chinese: they’re being refused work because they’re illiterate — in both Chinese and English, one might add. Chinese people who couldn’t read wouldn’t get that work either. Why the illiteracy? Because Chinese books are not part of their home life.
Anyway, the good news is, not everyone is thus affected by any means. As one commenter offers:
My father had a Pakistani boss once, he was born and bred in Hong Kong…his parents took the decision to send him to mainstream Hong Kong school, which was extremely unusual in late 50s early 60s. He had always said that being able to read and write Chinese was what got him so far. I agree. [Emphasis added]
- From what I’ve seen, Chinese parents in HK start busting out the flashcards (and even newspapers) before their kids are even in kindergarten. ↩
- Speaking of which, TV can actually count as reading in places like Japan and Taiwan, where it’s so text- and subtitle-heavy. ↩
- Before you go off and figuratively become a bookish deaf mute ( ), remember that all of this goes for listening as well. If you wait until you understand to start listening…it’s game over before you even start. If you ever want to be able to understand what you hear, you need to hear before you understand. ↩
- You like that? That was an Ironically Awkward And Belabored SentenceTM ↩
- This never quite seems to work the other way around — not in the beginning, at least. ↩