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Language Learning and Migration                                                             


Silke Übelmesser, Matthias Huber, Severin Weingarten

Most people learn one or more languages while in school. If language skills are acquired during childhood or adolescence, the decision is more likely determined by factors outside the learner's direct control. These factors may be related to the school system's foreign language options and parents' preferences. In contrast to this children-age language learning, adult-age language learning is more likely to be an individual's decision driven by different motives which can be of personal or economic nature. The literature so far has mostly focused on language proficiency and its determinants, and largely abstained from a closer analysis of the process of adult-age language acquisition itself - not least because of a lack of data. This project aims at closing this gap. As part of the project "Language Learning and Migration" funded by the German Science Foundation, a new "hand-collected" panel dataset on adult-age German language learning will be constructed comprising more than 100 countries for more than 50 years. The data will be used, first, to investigate the demand side of course participation and the circumstances under which migrants acquire language skills and, second, to examine the effects of language learning opportunities on migration making use of exogenous changes in the supply of language courses.

The results will help to understand the role of formal language courses in the language learning process of migrants, which is a very timely topic.

Work in progress: 

Description of the three datasets:

Uebelmesser, Silke, Matthias Huber, and Severin Weingarten (2017). "The German Language Worldwide: A New Dataset on Adult-Age Language Learning", University of Jena, mimeo.

The Goethe-Institut (GI) is a German association which offers cultural events, language courses and standardized language exams all over the world. From its annual reports, we constructed three datasets. The first dataset describes the regional distribution of the GI from 1965 - 2014, the opening and closing years of all institutesand whether they provide language services. The second dataset contains data on language learning in GI placed in countries all over the world. We report numbers on student registrations (1990 - 2014), sold course units (1972 - 1989 and 1998 - 2014) and exam participation (1986 - 2014). The third dataset contains information on language course participation at GI in Germany. In total, foreign students from around 200 countries participated in courses in the years 1966 - 2015. This paper relates these datasets to economic literature, describes briefly the GI with its tasks and goals, and presents descriptive illustrations of the datasets. The appendix provides a technical description of the datasets and their codebooks.

The data will be made available here once the project is finished.

Empirical Analyses

1. Uebelmesser, Silke and Severin Weingarten (2017). "A Macro-level Analysis of Adult-age Language Learning", CESifo Working Paper 6511.

This article investigates the macro-level drivers of adult-age language learning. We construct a new dataset that covers German language learning in 77 countries (including Germany) for 1992-2006. Fixed-effects regressions show that language learning in the EU is strongly associated with immigration. Instead, immigration by non-EU citizens in associated with language learning in Germany. Additionally, trade flows are strongly associated with language learning in non-EU high-income economies.

2. Huber, Matthias and Silke Uebelmesser (2017). "Presence of language-learning opportunities abroad and migration to Germany", University of Jena, mimeo.

This paper analyses the effect of the presence of German language learning opportunities abroad on migration to Germany. We use a unique dataset that provides information on the presence of the Goethe-Institut (GI), an association that promotes German culture and offers language courses and standardized exams, in 81 countries for the period 1965 to 2013. In this multiple origin and single destination framework, we estimate fixed-effects models where we control for multilateral resistance to migration by sing the CCE-estimator (Pesaran 2006). We find evidence that the number of language institutes provided by the GI in a country is positively correlated with migration from that country to Germany. We find that the correlation between migration and the number of language institutes is lower for high income countries while differences in linguistic or geographical distance are of no relevance. To establish causality, we show that the probability of opening new institutes is not related to previous migration to Germany in a positive way and we use an instrumental variable approach.

Presentations (in chronological order)

Jena Economic Research Workshop (JERW, Jena - January 2017)

Central-German Doctoral Program Economics Workshop (CGDE, Jena - March, 2017)

Jena Lecture Series (JLS, Jena - May, 2017)

CESifo Area Conference Employment and Social Protection (Munich - May, 2017)

CEMIR Junior Economist Workshop on Migration Research (Munich - June 2017)

European Society for Population Economics (ESPE, Glasgow - June 2017 - no participation due to an overlap with the CEMIR Workshop)

Empirical Micro Workshop (Leipzig - July 2017)

International Institute of Public Finance (IIPF, Tokyo - August 2017, no participation)

European Regional Science Association (ERSA, Groningen - August 2017)


Doctoral Workshop "Demographic Change, Migration and Integration: Interdisciplinary Perspectives" (Jena - September 2017)

European Association of Labor Economics (EALE, St. Gallen - September 2017)

CReAm/RWI Workshop on the Economics of Migration

Annual Conference of the Italian Society of Public Economics (SIEP, Catania - September 2017)