I’ve been noticing a sharp decline in German language instruction and interest in schools around the U.S., starting with the school district in which my family and I live. Friday’s New York Times piece, “German in a Multicultural World” by Sam Dillon confirmed this observation. I notice that the kids who choose German overwhelmingly are blond and of German ancestry. Those that aren’t simply aren’t attracted to the classes. I’ve heard them talk about just “not relating” to the language and not seeing it’s direct relevance to their lives, especially if they haven’t traveled to Germany or Austria. The article points out that the German teachers themselves reflect what I’ve seen:
“Of 1,424 teachers surveyed by the study, 1,366 were white, eight were black and six were Hispanic. Students, the study says, “must see black, Hispanic, Indian or other people of color who speak fluent German and can serve as role models.”
With so much in the news about Chinese economic growth and Spanish-speaking immigration and demographic trends, in addition to our natural historic and geographic ties with Latin America, these two languages represent the fastest-growing, and the most-studied second languages, respectively. French is the second-most studied. When the teachers make an effort to show actual people of color and ethnic minorities studying German or speaking German, students from diverse backgrounds do start to sign up, the article points out. This shows something I’ve been writing about, basically, that kids will follow an example adults set. If they see it, they can start to be it.
Maybe because I don’t speak German and haven’t studied it, but I have studied each of the other languages mentioned here, that I don’t feel too nostalgic for the diminishing of German instruction. Furthermore, when budgets, time and staff are tight, tough choices need to be made, and they need to go in pragmatic directions. The reach of German language simply is more limited than that of Spanish, my first recommendation of a language for American kids. Of course, the more languages taught, the better, as choice of language learning is based on so many factors. The fewer choices in language instruction, the more limited our view of the world becomes. At this time, there is no one, particular language that a citizen of the world MUST know, other than the language of friendship, discovery, and openness to new cultures and ideas. What do you think about the dwindling presence of German language instruction in American schools?