« Timeline | Main | Cantonese first impressions »

Comments

John Dowdell

Good enough for them, maybe. Having more flexibility gives you more options. An ESL group would know their own materials and would know the English-language material. A primary English speaker (EPL) would know only the English-language materials, and so would have a smaller view than those who adapt better.

This disparity extends even to visits. An ESL can get around in a primary-English environment, while an EPL is usually baffled and handicapped by visiting a non-English environment. Think of someone from Seoul visiting San Francisco, compared to the typical San Franciscan visiting Seoul. Being able to comfortably negotiate new environments is another reason to learn.

Those are tactical reasons. There's also a strong strategic reason why EPLs benefit from familiarity with additional languages. Each other culture focuses on English as the global language, and they can dedicate significant resources to the task. An EPL can rarely dedicate those resources to studying a single additional language. But we can more easily study a wider variety of languages, with more mileage available from each. Where an ESL can benefit from 60-80% capability in English, an EPL can gain advantages from 20-30% capability in multiple languages.

Rephrased, if English is a hub language, then there's pressure for an ESL to approach the hub more closely, while an EPL can benefit more from reaching out from that hub in varied directions than travelling along one single spoke. This strategy is particularly cost-effective in a global city such as San Francisco, where there are diverse local resources to learning various languages of the region.

So... why should a San Franciscan learn more about Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese and Korean? Because we have natural advantages in learning and benefitting from such language study. Speakers of the hub language have a different set of incentives than do speakers of other languages.

The comments to this entry are closed.