I've been intrigued lately by the concept of ecolingualism, which is the idea of learning the languages spoken where you live rather than living abroad for a period. This compulsive moving around and living in communities where you are often much richer than the local population is selfish insofar as one moves there entirely for one's own benefit according to the argument. In fact, one often harms the local community by, for example, paying above market rates for rent and then eventually pricing out the locals.
And so, I could easily interact where I live with Spanish- and Dari-speaking communities daily. According to ecolingualism, it would be more beneficial for me to learn these languages where I live than to live temporarily in Afghanistan or a Spanish-speaking country (or any other country for that matter) in that I am connecting locally and long-term to what is a shared community.
What do you think? Would you be able to do this where you live?
Here is the article where I first encountered the idea. It's titled, "Language-hacking ≠ Language-love."
I am learning Arabic and Farsi right now, because there are many Arabic and Farsi/Dari speaking refugees coming to Germany (and I don't have any immediate travel plans to any countries where those languages are spoken), so am I an ecolinguist now? I don't think so, I refuse this kind of label (as much as I refuse the label polyglot) and I don't like the assumption that white Westerners are always privileged and everyone else is underprivileged, weak and needs help (by white Westerners). I greatly dislike the fact, that Westerners don't meet people from other cultures on equal footing (Oh, was this a generalization? Yes, it was, as much as is the idea, that all immigrants are in dire need of help.) The only "eco" about not travelling to countries where my target languages are spoken, is the fact, that I'm possibly reducing my carbon foot print, by not taking a plane. But I don't really see, how it can be bad to travel to other countries, to learn about the language and the culture.
The author of the blog writes: "Russian and Arabic have gotten me so many free and discounted goods. I got free flowers, discounted scarves, and even a free cab ride. They wanted to give to me because I had given to them by speaking their language." So paying people from other cultures in their own country is exploiting them, but getting free stuff in your own country is doing a good deed? And just speaking someone elses language is such a good deed and makes you a better person? Arabs are very hospital and they will be delighted to hear you speaking their language, no matter if it is in your country or in their country. And I'm sure that my Persian friends would be happy to welcome me in Iran and let me appreciate their culture.
I whole-heartedly agree with the comments of Susan, Alan and Aegis.
Although I find your viewpoint more enlightened than the blog's author (who speaks quite laughably about hordes of YouTube bloggers "pricing
locals out of whole neighborhoods"), I really dislike this constant
reference to colonialism. I'm certainly not a fan of the PC language police, but don't forget that colonialism has a very ugly history and still provokes a strong reaction today in many indigenous people. Whatever your views on this complex issue, it should not be evoked just to casually make a point.
Anyway, as to your viewpoint: I agree that chatting with the local Spanish-speaking shopkeeper fosters cultural exchange, but don't you think it's even more beneficial to put money in communities that really need it? Susan's learning Spanish through Venezuelan teachers is very commendable, in my view, as the country is currently going through a horrendous and tragic economic crisis (http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/05/venezuela-is-falling-apart/481755/).
In my opinion, you're viewing from an abstract sociological perspective that ignores the human level. This is not the rich patronising the riff-raff, or a a westerner trying to civilize the savages, or fetishising exoticism. It's treating these people as equals, showing an interest in their culture and society (which they're glad about, because often their countries are very misunderstood), and in some cases bringing badly-needed funds to poorer communities.
By the way, there also seems to be an inherent contradiction in your idea: on the one hand, we should welcome foreigners who come to our societies and make friends with them to learn language (which I agree with). But on the other hand, westerners have no right to "stick our noses" into other countries' business...I don't rescind my right to live in another country just because I come from a multicultural one.
From the blog post:
"You give [a Thai taxi driver] 250, tell him to keep the change, and go on your merry way. You’ve spent $7. But if that happens enough, taxi drivers stop picking up Thai people. They only look for tourists—there is more money to be made."
I couldn't agree more. This kind of
behaviour is harmful. But what on earth does this have to do with
language learning? Does Richard honestly believe that most of the people
who do this are linguistic "digital nomads"?
Well, I'm neither a digital nomad, nor so-called polyglot and even not following any of this kind of blogs, so maybe that's why I fail to see how a bunch of travel bloggers can seriously harm any communities. If you read further in the blog, the author does sound like some guru: https://lovinglanguage.wordpress.com/2015/05/17/immoral-polyglot-or-ecolinguist/
“You have to be aware of the potential damage you are causing in learning languages. As we put our energies towards a majority language, we spread the seeds that drive out the natural biodiversity. We have to aim for the rare, beautiful languages in the local habitat, and nurture them, rather than trample over them to catch a view of the bigger attractions.<o:p></o:p>
O Polyglot, spend time caring for Chukchi and Aleut and Lapp! Don’t let them be lost among the fast-spreading Russian, English, and Norwegian.<o:p></o:p>
As polyglots we have a duty first, to do no harm. Do not spend too much energy on the languages of the strong. Be an ecolinguist. Second, we have to nurture lingua-diversity. We need to learn the languages of the weak, and speak them, and teach them. Enjoy their beauty and spread them. Spread ecolingualism.”
As little as I think that a bunch of travel bloggers seriously harm the lives of people from other countries, as little do I think that a bunch of polyglots can "save" languages from dying out. It's the language communities themselves, which need to preserve their languages and teach them to their children. I think that is very colonialistic thinking, to assume that hey need a "white man" to save them.