« Freakonomics Radio

158. Is Learning a Foreign Language Really Worth It?

2014-03-06 | 🔗
Yes, it expands the mind but we usually don't retain much -- and then there's the opportunity cost.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This podcast dynamically inserts audio advertisements of varying lengths for each download. As a result, the transcription time indexes may be inaccurate.
An apple original, so his joys. Some time, HOLLAND have already seen everything it can happen as a nightmare. Jerry radar now streaming one apple tv plus economics radio sponsored by discover earning cash back on you. Purchases is great, but Discover will do you one better at the end of your first you're discover will actually match all the cash back. You earned on your credit card birthrate discover This is all the cash vacuum in on your credit card. At the end of your first year, this this especially amazing because Discover is accepted at night, nine percent of places in the? U s that take credit cards learn more at discover. calm, slash, yes, me. Twenty one Nilsen report limitations applying
It back US listeners. You are about to hear an episode about the our ally or return on investment of studying a foreign language which might lead you to think hey, what's the our ally on listening to a friggin answered your pocket? Well, if anything above zero than we hope that you will consider making a contribution to keep this public radio podcast, free and easy just go to freak economics, dot com and click on donate mercy. Baku to that robust, and ink they create very very much the average american students will study of foreign language for two or three years little red schoolhouse is a well regarded private school Manhattan to the progressive style here can start with a second language in pre kindergarten and go all the way. Graduation, ok, we're little Red Elizabeth Erwin
we're going to be in a classroom. A fourth grade, spanish, excludes any repeat them bone marrow, what is it little red start out? Studying Spanish? Can s now get there grew steadily chill and as they get older, they can you to stick with spanish or take Mandarin or French? How are they doing so far? until I can normal spanish speaking person in Peru and say we're pretty bad fair person in fourth grade leaning, spanish. I can consider our good and they have big dreams about what learning a foreign language will help them accomplish. If you have like a big business deal so someone- and they don't speak English than you could make legal lie They are unaware. Gallop peace treaty shall bakery
Maybe they'll be chinese, our friends people, so I could talk to them like make another Federalist? Don't they like that in a different language, I might work at a store, because then people who speak other languages may ask you questions. So I'm going to be a world traveling or you can text or I might be a scientist, or I might be mechanic for I may be a person who invents a car and gets millions of toys today show were asking: what is the value of learning? A second language is started with an email from a listener named Doug Aman, he wrote to say I am very curious how it came. Be the teaching students. Foreign language has reached the status it has in the? U S, my eldest daughter is a college. Freshman
not only have I paid for her to study Spanish, who s four or more years even do in grade school. Now he rates but her knowledge is requiring her to study even more all caps. Exclamation point he goes on what on earth is going on? Having ever get this far? in a day and age were schools at every level, are complaining about limited resources. Why on earth do we continue to force His kids to study a foreign language that you will ever use in virtually all do not retain or to put in economic terms, where is the are alive, ok, we'll bite, hey kid, What is the hour? Why I'm learning a farmer? You learn lake spanish example in this school on. Maybe Twenty years later, you could become a Billy near in another country, but very
I'm here from w and my see this is free economics, radio, the pot cast that explores the hidden side of everything. Here's your host, Stephen governor the artillery shells were talk about learning a foreign language. Like me, in e g swears asking him how old is he was so, and he said why sleigh he sang it, I'm fourteen. Why do we do this teacher kids, a second language, but the answer? seem obvious, like all education at school,
Does your brain and any number of dimensions, but let's try to quantify it a bit more than that, we'll start with boas case. He's a psychology professor at the University of Chicago his specialty is communication. Really studying communication entirely autobiographical, because I realized that I'm I'm different when I'm using almost anywhere which other than Hebrew case our from Israel. His particular interest in communication has to do. How our decision making is affected when we operate in a foreign language things like making investments. I am much more, clear to invest in the stock market when I do it in English, if I think about it, in I feel that they become more conservative, so that surprising, but maybe he thought it was just him, so he ran an experiment with universes Chicago students was little game with money I give you doing out here is the way
Sars game works. If he gives you twenty dollars, you will play a game with twenty rounds dollar around in each round. You can either keep the dollar just put it in your pocket or put the dollar on the table and flip a coin. If its tales, you lose the dollar, but if its heads You get two dollars and fifty cents, meaning your original dollar back and you win a dollar and a half so only to know a lot of math to realise that the expected value is positive, in other words, that on average you're better off with a bet then pocketing the dollar. now? What does this have to do with a foreign language? We will interested to see what happened you make this decision when you using a foreign language, so the recent whose head some students play an english and other students play in a foreign language spanish and turns out. Indeed, people were like Almost twenty percentage points. More willing to take bets there
are significantly more willing to take the risk in a foreign language that isn't at all the result that he's expecting. I was actually stand that it happened, because it's really the same person all that person does use spanish now and it's the same dollar two same person and was just randomly the case that you doing it in Spanish. Now it could be that people just understand as well in a second language. This was, moreover, comprehension issue than a risk issue, but case our at least was persuaded that he was onto something because of that we started thinking that, maybe it's even stronger and more pervasive phenomenon, then even think, and not just about risk, and indeed we find that this, also to systematic differences that exist when you using a foreign language, for instance when we asked people to think about me.
I'll be limits. So would you sacrifice one person to say You ve heard this kind of dilemma before right. A bus driver, let's say, is going to run over five people and kill them so do You go ahead and kill the driver before he can kill the other five Normally people are reluctant to say yes, but if you ask them in a foreign language, we found its people twice ass, likely to do that. To actually go for the utilitarian option to sacrifice one person to say five, not we didn't do this for real but the used I poetical scenarios about the, but still said yes, I will do so. Why might this happen now? The reason this could be interesting is that now that a foreign language, much less emotional! It gives you less emotional resinous when you use it the same word.
love in a more even though you know exactly the meaning, and you know the meaning, when the meaning is identical. You still maybe your native english speaker, you got a lot more out of love and that's been demonstrated and also to ways also physiological reaction. So you can show the people's arousal higher when they use their native tongue. When these kind of emotional related words are used- and so case, our says, when people think in a foreign language, no more reflective about their choice, the more likely to engage in cost benefit analysis and away and less likely To be swayed by all sorts of emotional reactions that they might have in general
from case our point of view. This is not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, in fact, his experimental, examples- aren't very consistently strikes me that way in one instance, The foreign language seems to increase your appetite for risk in another. It makes you more reflective, but what matters is that language, always seems to effect something in the way you think or processing nation nor make a decision, and that really is the point of the argument in favour of teaching of foreign languages, It's because learning a foreign language changes the brain now. The evidence for this is pretty compelling bilingual kid. Have been shown to have better memory and executive function, theirs evidence that being bilingual stalls, the onset of Alzheimer's disease- and there are other more utilitarian pluses, as the fourth graders at little red sky,
house reminded us. Well, I think a good thing that comes from learning foreign languages that you can speak to my people. You know how to speak to other people and if they don't speak, your language, discovered their language and also is certainly makes he smarter to know all these different languages and it helps your education. Ok, that's all good stuff, but coming up for economics, radio, what about the opportunity cost of all that time spent learning a second language there, so he kids to remain barely literate enumerate in their own language. reconfirmed radio sponsored by wonder is business movers broadcast when cocksucker
Allah changed their recipe to what they called new Coke in nineteen five. The backlash was swift and severe, and yet the man who drove the change Chairman Robert Goya's wetter pulled new coke from the shelves. in a matter of months? Wonder? Is business movers explores boys what is controversial decision and the public response, but the real story of new Coke is far. more human and complex list, to wonder: is business movers podcast on Apple, podcast, Amazon, music or free in the wandering happened the Pennsylvania, lottery, scratch offs, pennsylvanians or scratching their way to find and with new every month, big top rises and second chance, drawings, excitements, always in order so try, Pennsylvania, lottery, scratch, offer your ticket to fund and get yours. Did I keep on scratch? It must be eighteen or older. Please pay responsibly benefits older pennsylvanians. Every day,
for economics radios brought to you by square. If you run a business, Oh how important it is to have a healthy cashflow. That's why we take payments with square either in person or online. You get your money fast access it instantly vs, where Square card a free business, debit card or transfer it to your bank account on you reschedule see all the ways Square can health at square dot com slash, go slash freak, though nonsense from W and Y see. This is for economics, radio, here's, your host, Stephen Governor, I'd like you to me Albert psyche Albert they saw, is enemy, destroy the whole thing
you did me Albert Sayin, Sir I've been called almost there things? Like minded sorry Albert safe, it's a spanish name. Its pronouncing exactly like the agricultural tool used tomorrow. The grass, but its spelled s a I see I see I see you again in. I got all types of Miss pronunciation. Some I'm used to whatever you say, site is from Barcelona, Bertha, loner and he's, economists at MIT, where he teaches urban planning, and today show we are asking about the return on investment of learning a foreign language, and when you know it safe has calculated exactly that. He tracked about nine thousand college graduates to see how a foreign language affected there
it is you surprised by what he found yeah, unfortunately- and I have to say of course, because I tried to speak three- I am I was feeling is appointed and actually we found a very, very small return. What we did find is that, after controlling fora, of characteristics in using a lot of experiment Tell research designs are basically trying to compare people or identical for everything, except or the second language. We tend to find a premium in the labour market of about two percent of of wages. In other words, if you speak a single language, you can expect to earn on average gnats across many many from people on average, you can be expected to earn about two percent higher wages to conventional, as this think about your income or your wage being about thirty thousand dollars, then you would expect
learn about six hundred dollars more per year. That's not think there are a lot of things you can do. That will increase your earnings by even two percent, but still that's not a huge premium and tell us to our young spanish speakers packet of little red Schoolhouse in New York. In any case, take us down, but there's a rank border in terms of how different foreign languages translate into higher earnings. We know that the lower return, its Spanish. Where it will you get about one point, five percent and then French two point: seven percent, and then Germany Four percent. So you know lettering a second language. It's something that's worth to Dubai itself, but as a financial position properly, if you focusing on financial returns their relatively low and you shoot for
who's on languages that are rarely spoken in ok, so the financial returns to learning foreign language are not so large, which leads Economists to think that it's mostly a waste of time makes me think that, for spending three years their lives to acquire very few scales. That's Brien Kaplan at George Mason, firstly, all the study seems to totally fail to teach people how to fluently speak for languages. So what we can actually see in the data is that, under One percent of Americans have learned to speak a foreign language very well in school. and it's very well according to them. As this people tend to exaggerate how good they are things if underwater some claim that they learn to speak of foreign language very well in school. Then God knows how few actually did Kaplan tells us that about a quarter of a I can say they speak a language other than English and the people.
say they speak? It well tended to learn at home. Not at school and all at school instruction does not come cheap in money or time it's. be close to about one sixth of the time that students are spending in high school, assuming that they start therefore languish in high school, So maybe, if you average over junior high school, then you might be spending a total about its wealth of your time. So I think, a pretty reasonable first pass to say that the cost of foreign language study in your schools is about a twelve of the cost of junior high school and when you multiple that by the total amount of spending, that is a lot Remember the something else that students be learning during that time. There's so much get to remain, barely literate enumerate in their own language and That's something where! Yes, it's true, you like it would probably not drunk. Actually change their ability to ridden right just to go and take the time on foreign language and putting it into that, but
to scale that actually really does pay in the world. So it's really were thinking about doing that. So is brine. Kaplan season learning a foreign language, especially in school, may not be worth it unless that foreign language is english. Member Albert Safe told us. His study of college graduates found only two percent wage premium for learning a foreign language. Those were American college graduates. I can tell you that there is research in other countries the findings in the United States do contrast with what other people, following the same philology found in Turkey in Russia any Israel in these three com. trees, actually speaking English, which would be a single language was associated with a substantial return of around ten to twenty percent. So it's it's
really a thing, English speaking countries where, where that effect is relatively low and again I think it's the explanations very clear English, its telling what even Brian Kaplan. Our language sceptic is not so surprised by the english language. Prima right, the incentive of real life is a very strong one. Is what I understand. Why do so many people on earth or an English Is there a lot of jobs on earth even get because you learn English? It also opens the doors open source for you in terms of things even read movies. You can watch people, you can t doing a tourism. I all of these things are you. These are all doors are open by English it's one of those in Guatemala is actually asking them. So am I Is English improve your life here being speaking, this relies here and all the while knows that I talk to you, who posted speak, very good english technologies this night and day. It's really the doorway into the international world. If you can speaking the share
and by the way Brian Kaplan, for all that he sounds like a language sceptic or, at the very least, a language utilitarian in real life he's a language romantic using college. He fell in love with you the literature me I can read- need shut. in german the cuisine nice belarussian guy coaches. fancy Sunday and server the german music. My favorite composer is my cards walk now, of course, but still the economist in him trumps, the romantic for me- every fits the basic story of what, if people
there are going to get some big rear benefits out of it or enriches the personal life. Then for language study is great, but it's a if its language that doesn't really help their career they're not going to use it and they are not happy when they there. I really do not see the point. Scroll to me For what it's worth, we get emails all the time from listeners in foreign countries who tell us that they listen to this for economics. Radio broadcasts in order to. or an English. So I have two things to say to you: people, one good luck with that too.
You ok, if I guess listeners next week on the show we listen to a song by Queen dust, and then We listened to the queen song backwards. Listen. Do it again, listen for the words it's fun to smoke marijuana in what can this teach us about mind, reading its next time, economics. Real, looks Frequent
radio is produced by W and Y see and governor productions. Our staff includes David Herman Gregg, resolve ski gretta, cone very Lamb. whose electing Burke Increase ban in if you are more frequent, comics radio, you can subscribe to our podcast on Itunes or good for economics, dot, com, real fine lots of radio, a blog, the books and more? state aid. I want to die. If you're ready to push the boundaries of tomorrow. Let the innovation experts at every riddle, aeronautical university, help you explore the possibilities
again this year, you s news and will report has reigned. Our online fatuous degree programmes number one in the nation and our distance learning technology put success at your fingertips. Flexible schedules personalized attention at expert faculty combined for a learning experience that open stores around the world to find out more ye. Are you not? Slash, explore
Transcript generated on 2021-03-13.