American society places little value on meaningful multilingualism for young people, or for adults for that matter. Nowhere is this lack of valuation more apparent than in the U.S. public education, which, with few exceptions, fails to even begin to expose students to languages other than English until they are 12 years old.
This near total lack of foreign language teaching, even as a subject, much less in immersion, or semi-immersion form, means people who want to bring up their children multilingual in the U.S. must do nearly all of the work, and all of the economic investment, themselves.
I want our two daughters, who my wife and I are working to raise as German-English bilinguals using the one parent, one language approach, to have a formal multilingual education that includes acquiring strong reading and writing skills in both German and English. For us, here in the Denver, Colorado area, the only current full-time option for such an education for our children is a private, tuition-based language-immersion school, the Colorado International School (COIS).
America’s linguistic assimilation logic
The individual economic costs associated with language loss and monolingual ideology and monolingual public education don’t stop with the tuition we’re paying to COIS. They can be traced back to my own father’s decision after emigrating to the U.S. from Germany in the early 1960s to assimilate to English monolingualism and to raise the three children he had with my American mother as English monolinguals. Because my father did not pass on German to me, I had to learn it myself, and I did so mostly in college.
It’s probably not fair to list the entire $45,000 cost of my college education as a cost of re-learning German and, more broadly, as a cost of American monolingual assimilation; I would have gone to college no matter what. However, since I did major in German in an effort to acquire something I could have received at home for free, part of that $45,000 should be attributed to the cost of assimilative language ideology and subtractive language learning, let’s just say $20,000.
This cost must be added to the total we’ve paid out, so far, to bring our daughters, 6 and 5, respectively, to where they are in German – right now they’re German dominant. That is, they speak German to each other as well as to me, but English to mom.
Rough estimate of costs
Here’s a rough estimate of what it’s cost us so far to get our two daughters, who are in kindergarten and first-grade, to where they are in German:
2 German au pairs x 6 months each = $15,000
1 German nanny x 1 ½ years = $30,000
German pre-school x 2 years = $5,000
Colorado International School x 2 years = $30,000
Assorted other costs = $2,000
Total (7 years) = $82,000
Looking forward, and assuming no tuition increases at Colorado International School (unlikely), it’s going to cost us about $17,000 per year to send our two daughters there for the next eight years, at which point we’ll most likely have no choice but to send them to an English monolingual school.
Let’s do the math on eight years at Colorado International School:
Private school tuition x 8 years (K-8), $17,000 per year = $136,000
Finally, let’s add in the cost of several trips to Germany, of which there really need to be at least a few, or the whole German-English bilingual project will eventually appear to make little concrete sense to our daughters:
3 trips to Germany, $8,000 each = $24,000
Let’s total it all up:
College education/German major = $20,000
German for kids, 0-6 years old = $65,000
German education for kids, 6-13 years old = $145,000
Family vacations in Germany = $24,000
Total = $254,000
This total doesn’t include the cost of German books and DVDs, something I’ve invested about $1,000 in so far. Moreover, I haven’t addressed the issue of how the money we will have spent on German by the time our youngest daughter is 13 could have been invested in a savings account, retirement account, etc. or have been used to prevent interest costs associated with future auto loans, home loans, etc.
As we now know from personal experience, it’s very expensive to recapture that which is lost due to the assimilative, monolingualism the modern nation state demands of its citizens and which it inculcates into them via a monolingual public education system.
Sadly, this assimilative and subtractive language logic and the notion that mutlilingualism is something to be erased rather than an individual and social resource is not unique to the United States. It is dominant in much of the world. Of course, there is the notable exception of an intensifying movement toward what I call an English-centric bilingualism, a concept I first defined in my Ph.D. dissertation and which I have outlined briefly in a couple of academic journal articles. I’ll save a discussion of the case of English-centric bilingualism for a future entry.