Is the socio-economic status of a language's speakers an important factor when choosing a language to learn?

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Is the socio-economic status of a language's speakers an important factor when choosing a language to learn?

Postby nooj » Mon Feb 15, 2021 3:25 pm

Many people don't learn a language because they have to, for example, to go to work in another country, but because they want to. That's not to ignore people who learn a language because they need to.

But for those people who choose to learn a language, does the socio-economic status of the speakers of a language have an impact on your choice to invest money and time into it, and if so, how important is it? Is it number 1 on the list of factors, or alternatively is it a factor to keep in mind but not too important?
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Re: Does the socio-economic status of a language's speakers an important factor when choosing a language to learn?

Postby Daniele » Mon Feb 15, 2021 4:31 pm

I think it depends on who you are asking to. I think that here in this forum, it could be a factor as long as it's linked to the extension of cultural content that is offered in that language. Developed countries usually offer more in terms of movies, books, etc.
In general, I think it definitely is a factor. You can observe language learning trends along the borders of two given countries. Those in the less rich country usually learn the language of the richer country. The trend could even change sometime: I can see it on the Italian/Slovenian border.
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Re: Does the socio-economic status of a language's speakers an important factor when choosing a language to learn?

Postby Cavesa » Mon Feb 15, 2021 5:12 pm

Yes. We may not like it, and we may also find many exceptions to the rule. But the basic fact that even among the people not planning to move abroad or have any sort of "international" career, the languages of the rich are much more popular than the languages of the poor. And the public image of each nation has even more to do with it than the reality.

That's why Czechs are learning German quite a lot, and almost never learning Polish. And the Poles are learning German but not Czech. A Czech going to Croatia every year is usually not interested in the language at all. But if they go to a richer country once or twice, they are likely to be more interested.

But it is also true about languages within a country or region. A typical French doctor in the northeast is more likely to have learnt German (a language they use mostly as a tourist and almost never at work), than Romanian or Turkish or another language of many of the patients. Or the medicine students doing a degree in English in the Czech Republic, who have to pass a Czech exam (I guess it is a huge fraud) and are supposed to communicate with the patients in Czech. I have yet to see a single one capable of this. And the usual excuse is "but Czech is not an important language", which is rich, coming from a person living there for six years. Do you think they'd dare to say that about German in Germany? Of course not. But as they know they are considered rich (they often have even easier exams than the real students, because the faculties need the foreign money for survival), they see Czech as something bellow their level.

And the list of examples could be endless. There are some exceptions, for example Spanish in Europe has managed to become very popular in spite of Spain being seen as a poorer country than most in the former western bloc, and not as economically important by the rest. And despite the fact that most countries speaking Spanish have lower overall living standards than even a large part of the former eastern bloc. It is possible to "compensate" and have an excellent PR that will make your country/natives/language more popular. Spanish is a wonderful exception, which could be followed by others, given the right circumstances and a lot of work.

But overall, it is true. The image of how rich the natives tend to be, that's an important factor.
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Re: Does the socio-economic status of a language's speakers an important factor when choosing a language to learn?

Postby DaveAgain » Mon Feb 15, 2021 5:29 pm

Cavesa wrote:..Spanish in Europe has managed to become very popular in spite of Spain being seen as a poorer country than most in the former western bloc, and not as economically important by the rest. And despite the fact that most countries speaking Spanish have lower overall living standards than even a large part of the former eastern bloc. It is possible to "compensate" and have an excellent PR that will make your country/natives/language more popular. Spanish is a wonderful exception, which could be followed by others, given the right circumstances and a lot of work.
I disagree with the suggestion that Spain/Spanish speaking countries are not economically significant. The quote below is taken from the British Councils report: languages of the future (2017), p52
Spain is the UK’s eighth largest non-English speaking export market, valued at nearly £15 billion in 2015. With a combined population of over 185 million people, Chile, Colombia and Mexico have all been identified as opportunity markets for the UK, ... Mexico is one of the most open trading nations in the world, with an extensive network of bilateral trade agreements and is projected to become the world’s seventh-largest economy by 2050.

https://forum.language-learners.org/vie ... 829#p35865
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Re: Does the socio-economic status of a language's speakers an important factor when choosing a language to learn?

Postby 白田龍 » Mon Feb 15, 2021 5:39 pm

Only indirectly, as it affects the availability of resources. A language for which I can't easily find plenty of books and tv online is a dead end.
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Re: Does the socio-economic status of a language's speakers an important factor when choosing a language to learn?

Postby tungemål » Mon Feb 15, 2021 5:49 pm

Cavesa wrote:Yes. We may not like it, and we may also find many exceptions to the rule. But the basic fact that even among the people not planning to move abroad or have any sort of "international" career, the languages of the rich are much more popular than the languages of the poor. And the public image of each nation has even more to do with it than the reality.
...


I think you are mostly right. Czechs learning German presumably do so for job opportunities.

But apart from that there are some languages that have cultural prestige. That has for a long time been French, German, and Italian. These are still popular languages to learn, because of the cultural aspects. Music, literature, cuisine etc. These countries were centers for for instance classical music in the 17th, 18th and 19th century.

Today Japanese and Korean seem to also have become popular because of cultural aspects, and Chinese maybe for economic aspects as well.

On the other hand: Languages of some of the richest countries in the world are not that popular to study: Arabic (in spite of its size), Swiss German, Norwegian, Irish or Dutch.
Richest countries
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Re: Is the socio-economic status of a language's speakers an important factor when choosing a language to learn?

Postby rdearman » Mon Feb 15, 2021 6:06 pm

tungemål wrote:On the other hand: Languages of some of the richest countries in the world are not that popular to study: Arabic (in spite of its size), Swiss German, Norwegian, Irish or Dutch.

Very few Irish people speak Irish. Most speak English.
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Re: Is the socio-economic status of a language's speakers an important factor when choosing a language to learn?

Postby tungemål » Mon Feb 15, 2021 6:35 pm

rdearman wrote:Very few Irish people speak Irish. Most speak English.


Ok. Yes I knew that. But if I ever learn Irish it will be because I want to ask for a Guinness beer in Irish when I go to Dublin :)
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Re: Is the socio-economic status of a language's speakers an important factor when choosing a language to learn?

Postby chove » Mon Feb 15, 2021 7:26 pm

Is the appeal of Spanish the tourist industry? Europeans go there on holiday a fair bit, or at least they did when I was small.
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Re: Is the socio-economic status of a language's speakers an important factor when choosing a language to learn?

Postby Lisa » Mon Feb 15, 2021 7:28 pm

I am not sure I'd consider the economy to be the important factor, I'd think it's more about the number of speakers. In this list:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_l ... e_speakers
German is 16, Polish is 33, and Czech is 87th. Meaning I can speak to many more people in German than in these other languages (although German wasn't so much a decision for me since I'm half German). But that's how I selected to study Spanish rather than French when I was 12; well, actually I think I looked at a map and saw the huge spanish-speaking regions and the small french regions.

This is for ordinary people, not hardcore polyglots, so there's also a mental ranking by how attainable they seem to be. I've started on Chinese at least three times, but I soon realize it's just not practical.
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