Ecolinguism and the ethics of learning new languages


I was interviewed by Tammy Bjelland of the Business of Language podcast a few weeks ago, and the episode recently went live. Readers of this blog will know that I write about the study of language with some regularity – see the archives for some previous posts – but I don’t talk about it a great deal on my own podcast nor is it really the focus of my work. So it was nice to have a chance to talk through my background in learning languages and the challenges of learning languages with few materials available for self-study. There isn’t enough written about this.

It was also gratifying to find a forum to discuss Richard Benton’s ideas about ecolinguism. He wrote a blogpost summarising some of his ideas here:

I am an ecolinguist because I want my work to preserve the complexity of our world’s language and culture ecosystem. How do you create a strong community made up of hardened, poor refugees and rich, privileged natives? The privileged must work hard to create new connections. In middle school, the band geek or math nerd can’t simply decide to enter the “cool crowd.” Only those with strong social capital can invite in those on the outside.
The strength of our communities depends on the decisions of the privileged and the powerful. When insiders opt to forgo their comfort to commune with those who go without, they unite communities who would be isolated. When a well-educated privileged professional chooses to learn a language, for example, he forgoes his advantage in communicating in way where he feels most comfortable. The white Minnesotan, speaking elementary, broken Somali, puts the outsider, the refugee, in the position of power. Struggling to learn this difficult language allows new connections to grow.

The choices we make as to which language to learn next have a broader impact beyond our own lives. For the full discussion, visit Tammy’s website to listen to the full episode or subscribe via your preferred podcast client.

UPDATE: I now offer one-on-one language coaching. Read more about what it involves and what kinds of problems it's best suited to addressing.