Learn Mayan and other less popular languages as a career path?

“Oakland clinic offers Mayan interpreter for COVID-19 vaccinations” (Mercury News):

A new COVID-19 vaccination clinic in the Fruitvale neighborhood is offering interpreter services for the Latin Mam or Mayan-speaking community.

This month, La Clinica de La Raza began offering the community-targeted vaccination service at 32 locations across the Bay Area, including ASCEND Elementary School on East 12th Street, where Latinos who speak Mam, K’iche ‘and Q’eqchi’ can get translation help from appointment to inoculation on Thursdays.

The article is illustrated with a photo of a guy who has apparently adapted completely to prevailing American cultural norms (he’s wearing a “WEED; Keep it lit” T-shirt).

Now that the U.S. border is effectively open, especially to those who can credibly claim to be under 18, I wonder if this suggests a good career path for young people: medical interpreter for Mayan and similarly unpopular languages. If folks didn’t learn Spanish when they lived in a predominantly Spanish-speaking nation, why expect them to learn English now that they’re Americans? They’ll be entitled to interpreters whenever they’re taking advantage of public housing, Medicaid, food stamps (SNAP/EBT), etc. At least for some of these jobs, certification is required and therefore immigrants themselves may not be able to perform them (also those immigrants may be undocumented and unable to work a W-2 job at a hospital or clinic).

What do folks think? Is learning an obscure language a good career in what is likely to be a growth industry?

(Also, does “Latinos who speak Mam, K’iche ‘and Q’eqchi’” make sense (leaving aside the issue that it should be “Latinx who speak”)? If a person doesn’t speak any language with Latin or Indo-European roots, is he/she/ze/they “Latino” or “Latinx”?

9 thoughts on “Learn Mayan and other less popular languages as a career path?

  1. I don’t know if it pays well to learn a new langue as a career, unless if you are very fluent with the language and speak several of them (I’m thinking a career for diplomat translation). I speak / read / write English (leaned in the USA) and Arabic (my native language). I also speak fluently in Armenian and Aramaic (leaned at my Church (use to read / write Aramaic too)).

    As for government providing translators, I’m totally against it. Translators for immigrants, legal or illegal is not a life time service. When you moved to this country, seeking a better life, you need to learn the native langue of the country. In fact, to get your Citizenship, you are interviewed and you must pass Citizenship tests [1] given to you by the immigration officer. The test includes speaking / reading / writing English and knowing basic history and policies of the USA. Sadly, this test has been watered down so much by the interviewing officers as such almost anyone will pass it those days.

    [1] https://my.uscis.gov/prep/test/civics

  2. It is too bad the government encourages people not to bother learning English, which has to be one of the world’s easier languages — witness the fact that about a billion people speak it– no gender, no cases, simple tenses, hardly any inflection. What is hard is a very large vocabulary and spelling, neither of which is necessary to make yourself understood. You would think that anyone with basic intelligence could have ok English ability after about a year in country.

    • Chinese is even easier than English, in fact, at least 30% easier to learn than English: witness the fact that 1,3B people speak it, also no tenses, no genders and no inflections, a thing of beauty !

    • @Ivan, @Jack:

      Sort-of related: I’m trying to find the recent article discussing the average American’s working vocabulary size in the age of Twitter. I recall that someone estimated that a shockingly low number of approximately 1,000 words forms the core of most people’s basic communications, with one measure as low as 600. If that’s true, you could probably teach most immigrants to speak enough English “to get by” in a couple of weeks.

      How about more advanced and fluent native speakers not using Twitter? An article from 2016 in Science:

      “…the typical English-speaking American knows about 42,000 of these so-called “lemmas” by the age of 20, UPI reports. The study, published this week in Frontiers in Psychology, asked more than 220,000 people to review a list of 100 words—some real and some made up—to decide which were actual entries in the dictionary. High scorers—those in the top 5%—knew an average of 52,000 lemmas, whereas low scorers—those in the bottom 5%—knew an average of 27,000.”


      I was surprised by how small that disparity was. A terrific Ivy League education, all the entitlement, enrichment and natural ability in the world, and the World Controllers only knew twice as many words as the Epsilon Minus Semi-Morons (although I’m probably pushing too far toward the ends of the curve in both directions here).

      At that link, they also have a test anyone can take to learn their position on the study they reference, created by the University of Ghent. Quick! Before you take the test, ask yourself: “Where is the University of Ghent?” If you don’t know, don’t take the test.

    • @Ivan, @Jack:


      I had to take the Ghent University test, of course. It’s a worthy challenge! There are some relatively obscure words sprinkled in there, and some difficult and deceptive nonwords. It’s nontrivial. Here were my results:

      I said “Yes” to 99% of the real words but I also…
      Said “Yes” to 7% of the nonwords (the test penalizes you more for the false positives).
      So my overall score was “92%” – at least on this iteration. A solid “A-minus” – which I’ll gladly take at this point in my addled middle-agedom (is that a word?) Yay me!

      Not to be too much of a spoiler (they choose from lots of words, you get 70 actual words and 30 nonwords, randomly, out of tens of thousands) but here were the non-words I said “yes” to:

      cheldishly – took me 2.982 seconds to falsely identify this as a real word.
      lattache – 3.88 seconds

      I don’t know why I thought “cheldish” was a real word, since I have no idea what a “cheld” is.
      I remember thinking maybe “lattache” was an anglicized form of a French term so I said Yes.

      I think we should try this test at some local high schools!

  3. Latin does seem like a poor descriptor for these folks. I take it they are indigenous in their own terroir but Latin in the native clear cut that is North America? Where is Latinx in the BIPOC hierarchy anyway? Do they not merit their own capital letter in the acronym? BILPoC?

  4. “ Poor immigrants consistently utilize welfare programs less than their native‐​born counterparts. ”

    But who can trust the big government leftists at…. the Cato Institute https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/immigrant-welfare-queen-myth

    What do you think? Should a man be denied life saving vaccine because his language is disliked by a rich entitled programmer who fears immigrants more than a deadly pandemic and whose Ivy League education somehow never taught him that America has no official language?

    • Brooklyn: To answer your last question… of course nobody, including the up-to-29 million undocumented, should be denied the opportunity to take a non-FDA-approved vaccine. The original post addresses the question of how young people can cash in on the interpreter jobs.

      Regarding the article you cite… Certainly CATO appears to disagree with Milton Friedman (“It’s just obvious you can’t have free immigration and a welfare state”). And CATO explicitly advocates for open borders: https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/forget-wall-already-its-time-us-have-open-borders (buried deep in this piece is “Social safety nets might come under pressure” (i.e., Milton Friedman might be right and the U.S. might not be able to give everyone a taxpayer-funded house, a taxpayer-funded EBT for food purchases, a taxpayer-funded health insurance card (Medicaid), and a taxpayer-funded smartphone (“Obamaphone”), none of which are considered “welfare” because they aren’t cash payments).

      So if CATO were directing U.S. policy, we could have 700 million new Americans in 2021 (those currently living on less than $1.90 per day; see https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty/overview ), all of whom would be entitled to SNAP/EBT and Medicaid and could be on a waiting list for a taxpayer-funded house. (How would they afford a plane ticket to come to the U.S.? Well-meaning “rich entitled programmers” could fund their Airbus A380 charter costs to SFO, JFK, BOS, and other areas where the righteous have lawn signs out welcoming all migrants.)

      If you read the particular CATO article that you’re citing, you’ll find that it compared POOR natives with POOR immigrants. Since it can take a while to get properly set up on means-tested programs (sometimes called “welfare” by haters), it is no surprise that a native with a $23,000/year income is more likely to be getting taxpayer-subsidized housing, food, and health care than an immigrant who earns the same $23,000/year. What is a more interesting question is whether a migrant who comes to the U.S. unable to speak Spanish or English is likely to fall into the “poor” category. The articled cited in the original post says that the person in the photo is from Guatemala. https://www.pewresearch.org/hispanic/fact-sheet/u-s-hispanics-facts-on-guatemalan-origin-latinos/ (2017) says “Among U.S. Hispanics, the median annual personal earnings for those ages 16 and older was $25,000, compared with $23,000 for Guatemalans.” https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2018/demo/p60-263.pdf provides some more 2017 statistics on income and poverty rates on different categories of Americans, including by nativity. It would not appear that being born in the U.S. as a white speaker of English leads to a lower income, a higher poverty rate, or a higher likelihood of being “entitled” (in the practical sense of the term, i.e., being entitled to a taxpayer-funded house, a taxpayer-funded health insurance plan, taxpayer-funded food, and a taxpayer-funded smartphone). Simply being “white, not Hispanic”, regardless of immigration status, leads to a median household income of $68,145/year. Maybe our heroic Facebook fact checkers could add a “missing context” to the CATO article!

      (Note that a family of four with an income of $68,145 cannot actually afford to live in the United States without subsidies. In Maskachusetts, for example, until they earn over $100,000/year they are eligible for taxpayer-subsidized health insurance (Romneycare/Obamacare) and until they earn over $130,000/year they are eligible for below market rate housing in the Boston suburbs (looks like $119,000/year (family of 4) was the practical limit for housing subsidies in Boston itself in 2020; see http://www.bostonplans.org/housing/income,-asset,-and-price-limits ).)

    • @Brooklyn, to me, this isn’t about $$ cost or rich vs poor or entitled or not, after all the US spent $46 billion on foreign aid [1] to help those who are OUTSIDE the US.

      To me, this is about making sure we have survivable, sustainable and competitive sociality here in the USA so we don’t lose our edge. If immigrants will not take the time to learn English, history and the laws of our nation, then those immigrants have no desire to better themselves in the USA. Even worse, they will not be contributing to the USA.

      [1] https://ge.usembassy.gov/database-offers-transparency-on-u-s-foreign-aid/#:~:text=In%20fiscal%20year%202018%2C%20the,disbursing%20more%20than%20%2420%20billion.

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