Linguistic Distance and the Language Fluency of Immigrants

37 Pages Posted: 30 Aug 2011 Last revised: 15 Aug 2012

See all articles by Ingo E. Isphording

Ingo E. Isphording

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Sebastian Otten

University College London - CReAM - Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration; Rhine-Westphalia Institute for Economic Research (RWI-Essen)

Date Written: August 30, 2011

Abstract

We use a newly available measure of linguistic distance developed by the German Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology to explain heterogeneity in language skills of immigrants. This measure is based on an automatical algorithm comparing pronunciation and vocabulary of language pairs. Using data from the German Socio-Economic Panel covering the period from 1997 to 2003, the linguistic distance measure is applied within a human capital framework of language acquisition. It is shown that linguistic distance is the most important determinant for host country language acquisition and that it explains a large fraction of language skill heterogeneity between immigrants. By lowering the efficiency and imposing higher costs of language learning, the probability of reporting good language skills is decreasing by increasing linguistic distance.

Keywords: linguistic distance, language, immigrants, human capital

JEL Classification: F22, J15, J24, J40

Suggested Citation

Isphording, Ingo E. and Otten, Sebastian, Linguistic Distance and the Language Fluency of Immigrants (August 30, 2011). Ruhr Economic Paper No. 274. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1919474 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1919474

Ingo E. Isphording (Contact Author)

IZA Institute of Labor Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Sebastian Otten

University College London - CReAM - Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration ( email )

Drayton House
30 Gordon Street
London, WC1H 0AX
United Kingdom

Rhine-Westphalia Institute for Economic Research (RWI-Essen) ( email )

Hohenzollernstr. 1-3
Essen, DE 45128
Germany

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