31 SES 06 B, Perceptions of Language and Language Teaching
Although a growing number of children in Europe are raised with more than one language, relatively little is known about the conditions that are beneficial for the successful development of multilingualism, and about the effects of multilingualism on educational and later occupational success. We present results from the longitudinal study MEZ (Multilingualism from a Longitudinal Perspective), currently ongoing, that aims at providing further insight into these questions. Our contribution focuses on the question of the extent to which students’ future career aspirations constitute a determinant of their investments in multilingual skills.
Drawing on rational choice theory, we assume the relationship between students’ multilingual development and their career development to be reciprocal: It is without controversy that multilingual skills have an impact on students’ educational and later labor market chances. Although not much research has been conducted on the effect of minority language skills, at any rate this applies to the language(s) of instruction and world languages like English or French, which are often selection criteria or included in job descriptions. We further hypothesize that students’ career aspirations are not only influenced by their language skills, but that career aspirations themselves constitute a potential source for students’ successful multilingual development: According to human capital theory (Becker 1964), investments in human capital, most important education and training, raise the productivity of individuals by imparting knowledge and skills, and well-being by raising future incomes. The amounts invested in education are modeled as rational responses in terms of an individual’s comparison of the monetary and psychic costs and benefits, such as future earnings, of an additional investment in education. Even though it is typically the decision of an additional year of education that is investigated in human capital theoretical analyses, the theory does not limit analyses to investments in formal education as it is not school attendance itself but the accumulation of labor market-relevant skills through additional education that is assumed to matter to students’ labor market prospects. As such, Becker’s framework allows to extend the concept of education to the decision to invest in (multilingual) language skills: The value of multilingual skills in the labor market can be assumed to determine students’ investments in their language skills.
Whereas human capital theory assumes students to be hyperrational decision-makers who are able to calculate life-time earnings, subsequent sociological rational choice models – which the literature often uses to explain educational disparities – depart from this conventional economic approach by modeling the utility individuals seek to maximize as the outcome of expected rather than of actual returns to education (e.g., Boudon 1974). As such, it can be assumed to be students’ expectations about the labor market benefits associated with multilingual skills that matter to their investment decisions. Also, some sociological choice researchers (e.g., Gambetta 1987) hypothesize that educational investments are not merely influenced by expected labor market benefits in general but by the educational requirements of students’ personal career aspirations. In other words, students are expected to accumulate just as much education as needed to be able to realize their personal career aspirations.
Drawing on these frameworks we investigate (1) whether and to what extent the value students attribute to multilingual skills in the labor market – both in general and with respect to the opportunity to realize their personal career aspirations – determines their investments in multilingual skills and to what extent this applies (2) to different languages (i.e., minority and majority languages), and (3) to different language groups (i.e., German, German-Turkish, German-Russian language background).
Becker, G.S. (1964). Human Capital Theory. Columbia: New York. Boudon, R. (1974). Education, Opportunity and Social Inequality: Changing Prospects in Western Society. New York: Wiley. Trebbels, M. (2015). The transition at the end of compulsory full-time education: Educational and future career aspirations of native and migrant students. Wiesbaden: Springer.
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