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

General discussion about learning languages
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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 Ug_Caveman » Fri Feb 19, 2021 12:41 pm

IronMike wrote:
devilyoudont wrote:For me personally, as I add languages, I am only interested in adding languages which are spoken in my city.

100% this. I love trying to learn the language(s) of my neighbors.


Indeed, the large Polish and Hong Kong expat communities near my local area have very much influenced my choices in placing Polish and Cantonese high on my "hit list".
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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 Ug_Caveman » Fri Feb 19, 2021 12:46 pm

AroAro wrote:Yes, I know these numbers but it is still a puzzle. I'm speaking from the perspective of a not so important country in the middle of Europe. Offering to kids Spanish in schools - language of a country lying on the outskirts of the continent, with shaky economy and high unemployment rate is not something I can logically grasp. Schools could offer just as well Hindi/Urdu because it has a similar number of speakers and I can assure you that Latin America (where most of these native Spanish speakers live) is just as exotic to us as India, China or Japan.


I suspect that may be due to the popularity of Spain as a tourist destination combined with the (relative) simplicity of Spanish when we're talking about Europeans learning Spanish.

Obviously in the Americas it's a bit of a different story.
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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 Ogrim » Fri Feb 19, 2021 5:12 pm

Ug_Caveman wrote:
AroAro wrote:Yes, I know these numbers but it is still a puzzle. I'm speaking from the perspective of a not so important country in the middle of Europe. Offering to kids Spanish in schools - language of a country lying on the outskirts of the continent, with shaky economy and high unemployment rate is not something I can logically grasp. Schools could offer just as well Hindi/Urdu because it has a similar number of speakers and I can assure you that Latin America (where most of these native Spanish speakers live) is just as exotic to us as India, China or Japan.


I suspect that may be due to the popularity of Spain as a tourist destination combined with the (relative) simplicity of Spanish when we're talking about Europeans learning Spanish.

Obviously in the Americas it's a bit of a different story.


Tourism probably plays a part, but Spanish is not simple, at least for Norwegians, and in Norway Spanish started to get really popular already in the 1980s, when I started learning it. There were two types of Spanish students I met at the university back then: those who loved Spain because of its culture, its people and their way of life, and those who had been to Latin America as volunteers in a peace project or relief effort and planned on returning to help poor and oppressed people in Central American republics like Nicaragua or El Salvador. Also, let us not underestimate the economy of Spain. Sure, they have a lot of problems, but looking at the big picture thy have had an incredible growth since they became a democracy less than 50 years ago, and Spain has made and is making a lot of contributions to science, medicine and engineering as well as literature, cinema and music. They are an important player in the EU and other international organisations, and Spanish is one of the five official languages out the UN.

My point is that although socio-economic status can be important, cultural and political aspects are just as important. Obviously, in school they will mostly offer the "important" languages, which in Europe are English, French, Spanish and German, probably in that order at least in the Nordic countries. I am not surprised that Spanish is one of them.

Personally, leaving aside those languages I learnt in school, I have never thought about socio-economic factors when choosing to learn a language. For me it is about the cultural richness of the language, its literature or, as in the case of Romansh, the fascination with a really small minority language with unique linguistic features and a quite vibrant cultural scene in spite of the very limited number of speakers.
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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 jeff_lindqvist » Fri Feb 19, 2021 6:01 pm

IronMike wrote:
devilyoudont wrote:For me personally, as I add languages, I am only interested in adding languages which are spoken in my city.

100% this. I love trying to learn the language(s) of my neighbors.


I must be at the opposite end of the spectrum, as I hardly know any of the languages spoken in my town. :shock:

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

If the OP's question was this one, I'm guilty. It can probably be seen as a privilege to be able to choose something else than the low hanging fruits with resources galore, or the ones you're likely to hear. Just a thought.
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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 Cavesa » Fri Feb 19, 2021 8:43 pm

jeff_lindqvist wrote:Is the socio-economic status of a language's learners an important factor when choosing a language to learn?

If the OP's question was this one, I'm guilty. It can probably be seen as a privilege to be able to choose something else than the low hanging fruits with resources galore, or the ones you're likely to hear. Just a thought.


That's an excellent point!

Yes, and I'd say that "poor people" cannot often afford to learn langauges of other "poor people", because it is seen as a wasted time and a missed opportunity to learn a more profitable language. While the "rich people" don't need to care. But there is the second component, which is the native language. An English native will be catered to much more than others, whether or not they are poor.

I'd say some things make more sense, from this point of view.
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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 » Fri Feb 19, 2021 9:15 pm

Poor people are less likely to have the sort of office/etc job that would reward language skills as well. People in the UK don't choose their cleaning lady by how well she speaks Japanese.
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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 devilyoudont » Fri Feb 19, 2021 9:57 pm

It can also work the other way. When I was trapped in retail, you met people who knew Spanish because they had always lived in proximity to the local Spanish speaking community. Being their neighbors, going to school with them, being friends with them, marrying them... Some people decided to learn the language. It's uncommon for any American to learn a foreign language, but over my life, the number 2 demographic of white and black people who can speak a foreign language (number 1 is people who live abroad) was poor people from cities. Of course, the actual level of Spanish does vary, with some only being able to passively understand it, others being able to "get by," others being fluent speakers and yet others speaking near native Spanish.

Of course, regardless of your level in Spanish, when you're trapped working at a big box store like I and they were, your language abilities do not help your job prospects.
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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 Cavesa » Fri Feb 19, 2021 10:00 pm

chove wrote:Poor people are less likely to have the sort of office/etc job that would reward language skills as well. People in the UK don't choose their cleaning lady by how well she speaks Japanese.


You're looking at it from the inverse way, she might be hired by a Japanese client, happy to give instructions in their native language (but yes, those chances are extremely slim. Perhaps she'd have a better chance to win a lottery). But if you're a Czech or Polish cleaning lady living near the borders, speaking German will allow you to commute. And get a four times higher salary for the same job.
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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 Agorima » Sat Feb 20, 2021 10:51 am

The mandatory teaching of English from the primary school has been imposed in the late 1990s/early 2000s in Europe.
This means the current generation speaks English quite well, and it is expected to do so even in the future, with exposure to native media content (movies, tv series, etc.)
However, it has to be said, this means also that all the other languages are pretty much neglected, with a narrower mindset.
What's the reason to move to [insert country here] if you are not willing to learn the local language at all? Just for money?
Staying within expat circles means not learning anything besides English. And it is not fair to local people to force them to speak in 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 chove » Sat Feb 20, 2021 5:22 pm

Living in a working-class area of Scotland I get a lot more "real life" use of my minimal Polish than something like my Spanish. If anyone's looking for anecdata.
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