Originally commented on Reddit.

Linguist here. God I’m so tired of reddit going over this “if you come here then learn the language.” You’re beating a dead horse.

Sure, some people move to the US and never learn English. They’re forced to stay within their ethnic community because they don’t have access to ESL resources, or they don’t have time, or they just don’t know about them.

But the majority of non-native English speakers DO learn English, and they learn it fairly quickly. They’re surrounded by it, they have no choice. They might not have a perfect grasp of it, they might be lacking the vocabulary for certain subjects, but they can communicate much better than you can in the language you learned in three years of high school or college classes.

Plus most people know that English is the language of money nowadays. That’s why they come here in the first place. They want to make a new life for themselves with the opportunities available here, and that includes speaking English.

“Then why do so many people have trouble speaking English still?” you ask.

Well this is a flaw in your perception of immigrants. There are a lot of them, and they’re constantly arriving. You only notice the ones who don’t speak English well. You don’t notice the ones who learn it. You’re not seeing how quickly they learn. You’re missing the individual progress.

Also, for people with thick accents, if you’re not familiar with the learner’s native phonology then you’ll have a hard time figuring out what they’re trying to say. Having a general understanding of linguistics helps in this regard. Learning foreign languages also develops your ear to be more sensitive to phonological differentiation. It’s fun stuff, and I think it should be part of the general education requirements in college.

I do believe monolingualism is unfortunate because prevents people from fully appreciating foreign languages and cultures. Sapir-whorfians argue that different languages use different parts of the brain, and while the jury is still out on that one, just the effort involved in understanding new grammatical structures and memorizing vocabulary will exercise your brain in important ways. I’ve heard examples of it helping prevent Alzheimer’s/dementia and helping children with dyslexia, but I would have to look those assertions up and I’m on my phone.

(Sorry I’m not a cognitive linguist so I can’t go into more detail than that.)

I guess I just don’t see why people wouldn’t want to learn new languages. Cultural sensitivity is so important. And it can make you money, right? International business. I guess that’s what ethnocentrism does to people.

God damn is my degree useless or what. I picked linguistics as a major because I do feel all of these topics are important. I’m good at ling analysis. But you basically need a Ph.D to do any sort of work in the field. And we didn’t even get to learn the relevant subjects like cognitive ling, computational ling, or language acquisition. /depressed