I wonder if languages that are hard in certain ways, for example French for spelling, German in terms of grammar or Chinese in terms of writing, end up creating a special difficulty for social mobility. All languages have a class distinction in terms of the ability of different individuals to master them. But those that are especially hard, create an additional obstacle for class mobility. People who don’t master their own language in all cultures are poorly regarded by the elites, but if the language they speak are very hard to improve as an adult, then language can be an obstacle for social mobility. Individuals can suffer discrimination in jobs and their social standing can be diminished just because of not mastering the idiosincracies of their language. Is it a coincidence that English is associated with democracy and social mobility?

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Natalia on August 5, 2010  · 

English grammar is pretty easy to master, I know by experience that German is much more complex, but I think that besides the proper use of the language, the big difference between people is vocabulary. Even in English, “the elites” can tell who doesn’t belong.

For me, English is democratic because coining words is free. In Spanish, it doesn’t sound well when you try to use anything as a verb for example, but in English, you have more creative license.

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Diego on August 5, 2010  · 

I think that there are more important factors than language.

Looking at recent stats, the US and UK (together with Italy) did worst than all the other OECD countries in terms of social mobility.

As in many other categories, Scandinavian countries did best, and even though I don’t speak Nordic languages, from what I’ve seen I wouldn’t say they are the easiest to learn.


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jesús on August 5, 2010  · 

I believe the question is not easier or harder. In fact, Chinese is harder to learn to a Spanish-speaking person but truly easy to a Korean. Same thing applies to German for Dutch or Swedish speakers. The true key is whether such language has a strong number of speakers. If not, then such societies tend to learn other languages in order not feel isolated and therefore end up being more social. Think of Luxemburg, the Netherlands, the Baltic countries…. etc.

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alfonso on August 9, 2010  · 

Natalia, I am afraid english grammar is very hard to master and is one of the hardest, although I accept basic grammar is very simple. English is the most widely learnt language in the whole world and this is probably its best characteristic and what makes more and more people learn it….
German grammar is easy to learn as it is very structured and rationalized. It takes some time, though.

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Philipp on August 20, 2010  · 

Since when is England known for social mobility? I don’t know any culture that spends more time and energy on defining and reinforcing its social classes based on vocabulary, pronunciation and schooling. The UK has a very clearly defined social code, which clearly distinguishes between those that belong and those that don’t belong.

I do not believe that it matters a lot how difficult a language is (again, English is rather simple, yet the UK distinguishes a lot based on the a persons verbal abilities). Rather, it matters how effective schooling is in polishing a person’s verbal skills. School can function as an equalizer for people from verbal and not so verbal backgrounds.

Countries that still have functioning public school systems like Scandinavia and the Netherlands must be the ones with the most social mobility. In countries like Spain and the UK the elites almost exclusively attend private schools and thus build social clubs (with their specific vernacular) very early on in their lives.

Germany is an exception to the rule as it has a school system dominated by public school, yet separates pupils based on their learning ability as early as in 4th grade. Only those with the best grades in 4th grade will end up going to university 8 years later. And those are of course pupils with educated parents.

So in Germany, unfortunately, school does not function as an equalizer, although it is public.

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jack on August 20, 2010  · 

Hard or easy depends on the native speaking background a person comes from. It would be very difficult to come by evidence that even if there is such thing as an objective measure for language difficulty, that it could hinder social mobility.

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Jaime on August 23, 2010  · 

Y no sólo lo que enuncias:en España además nos empeñamos en poner másñ trabas a la movilidad con la pluralidad de lenguajes y el uso imperativo de los mismos a nivel administrativo. Se ve ñque no todos han leído aún la Biblia y el bonito cuento de Babel.

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