I was born into a bilingual family where the two languages I grew up speaking are spoken only by a minority in North America: French and Innu-aimun (Eastern Cree).
A language's merit isn't solely determined by its usefulness. All the work that is put in by linguists and those who defend their linguistic heritage is not in an effort to preserve a language because of how useful it may be to speak it.
Indeed, the people who work for the conservation of the Innu language know for a fact that the language they are protecting from disappearance is not the most attractive one to foreigners or even to locals. In other words, it doesn't sell, it doesn't shine. Why would someone learn a language spoken only by a few 12,000 people in some remote locations of Quebec? One would rather learn French or English and make their way around Canada without any problem. One could simply just learn Spanish and make him or herself understood while traveling all the way down to South America. But what about Nahuatl, which was once the ''official'' language of Mexico? What about Quechua, still spoken by millions of people throughout the Andean region of South America? Why not Inuktitut? Or Mapuche? Or Innu? Do they not have merit, even if they aren't "useful"?
This is not a scientific article nor a cry for pity. It's just a text written by some guy who questions why we learn certain languages and forget all about others. In fact, my point in writing this article is to encourage readers to open a Wikipedia page about a minority language that they don't know anything about and listen to people speak that language on Youtube (Check out Wikitongues for an excellent foray into minority languages). Then, maybe do a little research on the people who speak a minority language. Finally, maybe start to learn it.
Why do we teach Spanish, German, Italian and Russian in Canadian high schools and CEGEPS, while the languages that are spoken by our people, the indigenous people of this land, are almost ignored and forgotten by the population? Please, don't misunderstand me by thinking that I am saying that these European languages shouldn't be learnt. Of course they should! They are just as beautiful as the native American ones. I am only saying that the American people, all of them, from North to South, should see the merits in preserving such wonderful, historic languages as the ones first spoken on these lands.
Then, why should you learn Quechua when you go to Peru and Cree when you're going to Canada? Well, to open borders between people. It is, to me, a display of humility and respect to people who have long been put aside and shunned. Plus, it only creates a momentum in your surrounding that will maybe invite other people to do the same. It is what we call a virtuous circle, or the exact opposite of a vicious circle.
In this case, the two circles are as follow:
The main question I am asking you is: Do you learn a language only because it is useful? Could you learn it because you're aware of a human condition that somehow hurts your values? Do you sometimes learn a language because of the culture associated with that language, and because you want to get closer to it?
In conclusion, I wish you all the best in your language learning journey. If you are on Verbling, reading these wonderful articles made by extremely skilled people with a passion for sharing their language, it means that you have an interest in connecting yourself with other human beings. This is great. If ever, in your studies, you stumble across the possibility of incorporating into your life a vulnerable language, I invite you with all my heart to give it a shot.