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Language learning politics Language learning politics
by Joseph Gatt
2020-09-17 08:59:01
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Learning a foreign language isn't that hard or complicated. Many have succeeded in learning a foreign language, even when they have low levels of formal education.

One example could be all the Kabyle women who moved to Algiers or other Algerian Arabic-speaking cities in the 1950s and 1960s. Many of them did not spend a single day in school in their lives, yet often mastered the Arabic language, in some cases even French, albeit with an accent. But they are fluent!

But there are cases of where politics interferes with foreign language learning.

lang01_400_01The Asian totalitarian dictatorships

For China, Japan, South Korea or Vietnam among other nations, speaking foreign languages is viewed with suspicion.

The very nature of business and government in Asia is that it's very secretive.

Let's just say that governments in East Asia are more about making money than they are about providing services, especially good services.

So the nature of business and politics in East Asia is about finding projects where they can split state funds without having to work or get anything done. They'll be on the lookout for markets in foreign states where governments have money to spend, will split the bill, and East Asian companies get free cash.

The very strange, illegal nature of the way business and politics are done means that East Asians are often scared of those who can speak foreign languages and provide the details of what I just described above. Because East Asian nations are about “pretending” that the services have really been provided. So anyone who speaks English or French might betray the acting game and let the truth slip away.

So in East Asia, language learning policy is as follows: hire the worst possible teachers, and a propaganda movement that portrays foreign people as backwards people who don't understand the rigidities of the local culture.

And the media promotes telling lies as a virtue, as in “you should never tell someone you did a good job” or “you should never tell someone you are looking for a job” and so on.

So learning foreign languages is about hiring the worst teachers, and confusing those teachers when it comes to their teaching abilities. Add the propaganda of White people as strange people to that, and soon enough you get a traumatized nation scared of talking to foreign people.

Now foreign businesses have complained about the aloofness of their East Asian staff and the poor command of English or French of their local staff. And when the Chinese, Japanese or Korean employee does speak perfect English or French, those locals are often the de facto CEO, and tend to have vast powers, including those of seconding the decisions of the “White” CEO. And local job security laws mean you can't fire that person seconding your decisions.

The African and Middle Eastern model

In Africa and the Middle East, leaning foreign languages is encouraged. Most learn foreign languages through informal education, as in watching movies, TV, YouTube channels, or satellite television in the old days.

Reading the foreign press is also encouraged. But, in Africa and the Middle East, one topic that is off the tables is local politics. There are few or no articles in the local or foreign press describing the intrigues of local government and business.

Furthermore, Africa and the Middle East strictly control written communication. You can chat about football or Hollywood or MTV all you want, but the minute you start publishing articles in the press, or writing books, you are under the radar, and every word you say will be carefully scrutinized.

In sum, learn all the foreign languages you want. But don't count on language schools or the education system for that, and don't write letters to the foreign press.

What does Africa and the Middle East do with its foreign-language speakers? They usually wait for them to turn 40 or 50, get married and have a few kids, before they start using them in important and sensitive missions. That limits the number of risks they might take.

A lot of foreign language speakers will end up being candidates for immigration. But those immigrants often lack written communication skills and formal working skills (or skills involving working in a formal setting) which makes white collar workers from Africa and the Middle East very hard to train, as they tend to take too many liberties at work (including the liberty of not showing up for work or of not doing the assigned work).

And then there are cultural differences and misunderstandings which often lead to accusations of racism and so on.

In sum, single 20 or 30 year-olds are rarely employed when they speak foreign languages, but have a free pass as long as they're not writing anything or providing written reports about anything.

The Latin American and South Asian model

In Latin America, India and Pakistan and so on, foreign languages will bump you into the elites. You speak a foreign language, you are a member of the elite (usually).

So those Latin American elites will speak to you in French or English and will “kill” you if you dare speak to them in Spanish. Same goes for the Indians, don't even try to input in Hindi or Urdu word in any sentence, they will be deeply offended.

So those Latin American and Indian elites will want you to treat them like they're “American” or something that is they tend not to want to be reminded that they are from Pakistan or Sri Lanka or Chile or something.

In sum, learning a foreign language is not that hard in Latin America and South Asia. If you succeed, you get a cushy job, but you are cut off from the base (from the masses). If you dare hang out with the masses, you lose your elite status.

Eastern Europe and the CIS

Speaking foreign languages will make you something of an intellectual. Something of an adjunct professor.

That is you will be respected for your intellect, but chances are you won't get paid much.

People will come to you seeking your advice. You are allowed to read anything you want to read. No one will come harass you or anything. But you get low pay.

In Eastern Europe and the CIS, politics is a “sect” of sorts and no one knows exactly what goes on in there, so they are not afraid of leaks or betrayal or anything, because no one has access to those places.

If you get hired by the government, chances are you'll get cut off the masses and won't be allowed to talk to the person in the streets.

If you work in the business world, chances are your foreign language skills will be used and valued, maybe you will be respected and admired at the workplace. But that's about it.

Europe and North America

The shortage of foreign language speakers, despite their abundance.

The problem with Europe and North America lies in how they “choose” their immigrants.

First off, I've discussed “third world” education systems above. Not great education systems.

Second off, Europe and North America tends to bring in immigrants from the third world who are more interested in the welfare system than in sweating it a bit and getting work done.

That is, when you apply for an immigrant visa to Europe, North America, or Australia or New Zealand, the consulate or embassy guys aren't really trying to figure out whether you are actually trying to get there to work, or whether you will apply for your welfare checks and stay home all day watching YouTube videos from your home country.

So yes, a lot of immigrants speak Vietnamese and Arabic and Swahili and everything else. But a lot of them can't write in English, French or European languages. A lot of them have workplace values completely different from ours (pretending to work as opposed to working).

So we do have a shortage of bilingual workers. Either they learned Korean with their parents but could never write a decent letter to a Korean company. Or they came from Korea in their adult life and can't write a decent letter in English.

The education system does not have a clear foreign language strategy in Europe and North America. So you have to find bilingual workers where you can find them.

Those who do speak foreign languages tend to use their skills on the job. But they are so rare, and so many people claim to speak foreign languages that they don't speak, which makes proving that you speak a foreign language can be an incredibly frustrating procedure.

I speak 9 languages (as you know) and here are some of the things North American and European potential employers have told me:

-”Go to the psychiatrist, I think you have issues putting all those language claims on your resume.”

-”You don't speak all those languages, you are a liar!”

-”Do you use Google translate or something?”

-”Why are you applying for a job to work with me? You are a genius, I employ normal people!”

-”Excuse me. Most of the guys who work here are middle school and high school drop outs. You wouldn’t fit in.”

-”Would you be interested in dating my cousin?”

You get the idea.

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