What you miss when you’re not an ecolinguist

What languages can you connect with around you?
What languages can you connect with around you?

I haven’t always lived as a successful ecolinguist. The past couple days I was remembering times when I missed opportunities, times when I found myself in a rich linguistic environment but didn’t take the time to look around and connect with the people around me. While I managed to connect with some of the languages, some of them avoided my grasp.

Fortunately, I found ways to connect better with people around me now, though I still fall short. Observing my environment better at this point, I can at least see how my languages fit in.

I hope that this post will help you look around you to listen to and learn from the people around you. I will show you where and how opportunities to be an ecolinguist exist around you. Once you start to pay attention, you may find that your friends, coworkers, classmates, or neighbors speak languages you didn’t notice.
Be an ecolinguist

Keeping Basque speakers—and making more

Txili Lauzarika, my Euskara teacher for the morning
Txili Lauzarika, my Euskara teacher for the morning

After the Basque class this summer, I had an opportunity to speak with the teacher, Txili Lauzirika. He is a native speaker of Euskara (Basque), with a passion for the language. A teacher and poet by profession, and a sociologist by training, he offered me important insights into the survival of Euskara up to the present, as well as its continued existence into the future.

Because his training was in sociology and not history, he presented me some counter-narratives to the ones we normally hear about Euskara. They offer hope to the future existence of this minority language if we follow some of the basic principles that he noticed.
Survival of Euskara

Teaching Spanish as a US language

How do we help kids love language?
How do we help kids love language?

Following up on last week, I don’t think we should focus on teaching or learning “world” or “foreign” languages. From an ecolinguistic point of view, we observe Spanish spoken all over the place. Let’s focus on how you would teach languages as if they were “local” and not “foreign,” that is, if kids in our school, people at the mall, were speaking those languages.

The example of Spanish works best. In the US Spanish is, in fact, not a foreign language. Since the US became the second-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, we should no longer teach Spanish as a language spoken “over there.”

Yes, people speak the language in lots of other countries, but that doesn’t make it a “foreign” language. If you lived in Panama would Spanish be a “foreign” language? Of course not. If you lived in Bilbao, would Basque be a “foreign” language? It would be a “local” language.

In reality, we speak many languages here locally in my town, even in our suburb and in our school. What would we need to do to fashion our language class to fill this role for language, especially Spanish?
Learn Spanish for what you’re doing

Loving language to save your life

Friends who do not know loneliness.
Friends who do not know loneliness. How do we learn from them?

Loving language can save your life. Some talk about languages helping you get a better paycheck or offering cognitive benefits. If you aim to make yourself richer or smarter, learning a language gives you marginal benefits. They will not save your life, though.

Or will they…?

Our society in the US—and more and more in the first world—is developing a serious, deadly condition, that is, loneliness. Note, though, that this is a problem of the first world. It does not afflict those of the third world nearly as much.

By learning a language, especially one of the immigrant groups living near you, you may have a chance of dodging the deadly bullet of isolation that is literally killing people in our society.
Our neighbors have the answer

Best ways to learn to hang out in Spanish

What do you need to know to enjoy hanging out in Spanish?
What do you need to know to enjoy hanging out in Spanish?

The main reason people want to learn a language is to hang out with new, cool people. This week I asked myself, is that what our schools are teaching? I wanted to interview my children to see how well school Spanish helped them do what was most important to teenagers: socializing.

My kids just got back this week from Spain. We went as a family for 10 days, and then they stayed for another couple weeks. They stayed with two families. One was the family of our former exchange student. The other was the grandmother of my daughter’s friend.

Of my two daughters, the older had taken a year of standard high school Spanish. The younger had no formal Spanish other than a few weeks of Duolingo practice.

I interviewed them to see how it went.

  • How well did they feel prepared? What could they do successfully in Spanish?
  • In attempting to learn Spanish, what worked? What didn’t?
  • If they could spend the next year learning Spanish, what would they focus on?

What works in the classroom

Does Spanish have a chance in the US? Language in American politics

He speaks Spanish! And he uses it to make a good point.
He speaks Spanish! And he uses it to make a good point.

Spanish makes an appearance in the US presidential campaign. I first became aware of it when I saw the famous George Takei speak it in a plea that immigrants not vote for Trump.

In the ad, he addresses Spanish-speaking Americans, comparing verbal attacks by Trump against Latino immigrants to the US government’s forcing Japanese-Americans—like Mr. Takei himself—into internment camps during World War Two.

I was fascinated to see how he used Spanish as a way to connect with immigrants. He understood that using a language besides English would connect immediately with and show solidarity with immigrants. Moreover, he expressed how he learned Spanish: by living alongside Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles growing up.

Politicos take Spanish seriously. As a result, Spanish-speakers possess power. Spanish may have a future in the US, in spite of the normal forces that eliminate languages other than English from our country.

As I looked further, I found that Spanish political ads are common this season, and they have a history in our country.
Other Spanish ads

National, immigrant, and tourist languages

Basque, Spanish, English at a ticket vending machine. Note that a single word of English appears.
In Spain, I noticed a three-tier system of languages. I believe that we find this system often in Europe, but less so in the US. Nevertheless, the system shows up in the US especially since much of it is based in economics.

We must focus on a particular place in order to define these languages.

Here are the three basic levels:

  1. Local languages. These are the languages that find their home in the area in question.
  2. Immigrant languages. When people come from the area of another local language to live in a new area permanently, they bring their language with them. They may crystalize as a distinct community in the new area.
  3. Tourist languages. Some people come for a short time, ready to spend money on specific goods and services, such as souvenirs and museum tickets. Many of them may speak other languages.

In Spain I’ve noticed these levels play out in a particular way.
Ecolinguism in Spain

Discoveries on an #Ecolinguistic Expedition

Let's set out together for exploring our hometown!
Let’s set out together for exploring our hometown!

Friday I considered an ecolinguistic expedition day. I set up an Instagram account (richardlanguage) where I started logging the languages I see around me.

Join me by posting pics of the languages around you and tagging them #ecolinguism!

In this first day, I didn’t go out of my way, but recorded why I saw as I walked along my normal Friday afternoon path to Oromo Table.
What I learned

How vital is our Minnesotan multilingualism?

What roles do the languages in your community play?
What roles do the languages in your community play?

Multilingualism provides vitality to cities, not just a problem to be solved. As a result, cities must preserve and promote this vitality through policies and services.

Recently, Michael Erard, author of Babel No More, made this claim in an article about multilingualism in cities. He followed the studies by a European consortium called Languages in Urban Communities: Integration and Diversity for Europe (or LUCIDE) in the book, The Multilingual City.

The researchers, Erard explained, studied some of the unofficial ways that languages are used in a cosmopolitan area, such as graffiti, posters, and trash—the “detritus” of less visible communities.

The studies focused on Europe, with some further research in Canada and Australia. They also tended to focus on “European” languages—more highly valued than perceived “foreign” languages like Romani and Arabic.

How would Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota, USA, measure up to the multilingualism of these studies?
Minnesota ecolinguism

Irish & Basque: Unnecessary languages! (Or are they…?)

What makes a language useful?
What makes a language useful?

Recently I read the article, “Can anybody truthfully say that Irish is a necessary language?,” where the Irish author, Rosita Boland, expresses her frustration at the time wasted (12 years!) at failing to learn the first national language of Ireland.

Ms. Boland suffered at studying this language unsuccessfully at school. She writes, “The disgrace, as I see it, is being forced by the State to study a compulsory language for which I had no aptitude, absolutely no interest in, and no choice about throughout my entire school career. Where is the pedagogic sense in that?” To be honest, this sounds like my 14-year old’s laments about learning to divide polynomials: “How am I ever going to use that?”

I agree with my 14-year old, so I can’t dismiss Ms. Boland’s complaints out of hand.

But the author’s complain goes deeper. Not only did she fail to learn this compulsory subject, her country’s Constitution ties her Irish identity to it. She further argues, “It is written into our Constitution that Irish is our national language and the first official language. English is recognised as a second official language. That does not make sense.” She resents that her Constitution would define her by the subject that she hated and failed in school.

While she is right that Irish cannot be spoken outside of Ireland, does that make it less “useful”? Is this the only standard of “usefulness”?
What’s useful?