“It’s Practically a Must”: Neoliberal Reasons for Foreign Language Learning

Document Type: Research Paper

Authors

1 University of Jyväskylä, Finland

2 Universidad Nacional, Costa Rica

3 University of Minnesota, USA

Abstract

This qualitative study analyzes the reasons of college students for learning English as a foreign language (EFL) in Costa Rica and the reasons of high school students for learning German as a foreign language (GFL) in the US. It asks to what extent the learners’ reasons align with or deviate from neoliberal discourses that commodify foreign languages. The analysis of 27 interviews in a US high school and 17 interviews in a Costa Rican university revealed how language and context mattered: GFL learners used German for identity building and connecting to their heritage, whereas EFL learners felt pressure to learn English in order to survive on the competitive job market. The GFL learners’ ability to deviate from neoliberal language learning motivations is interpreted as a privilege that derives from their linguistic and social status. The authors call for a common effort to broaden the spectrum of FL learning motivations for the benefit of more successful and more equitable language learning experiences.

Keywords