Cost of monolingualism: $254,000

Colorado International School | Language on the Move

Colorado International School

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

Additional costs
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.

Author Christof Demont-Heinrich

A lifelong interest in language and writing motivated in large part by a desire to learn my father's mother tongue, German, has played a large role in my professional and educational trajectory. I spent my junior year of college studying in Freiburg, Germany. After graduating from Allegheny College with a B.A. in German, I worked as a print journalist for eight years in the Boston area. I moved to Colorado in August of 1996 so that I could attend Colorado State University where I earned an M.A. in English (1998). After a couple years of working as an adjunct faculty member at CSU and the University of Northern Colorado, I began a Ph.D. program at the University of Colorado, Boulder School of Journalism and Mass Communication in the fall of 2000. I completed my dissertation in December of 2005. I started a tenure-track position at the University of Denver in the fall of 2005 where I am now an Associate Professor in the Department of Media, Film & Journalism Studies. My general research interests are in linguistic and cultural dimensions of globalization, transnational and national identity, and the relation between media discourse and hegemony.

More posts by Christof Demont-Heinrich
  • Interesting comments and experiences from other US-based bilingual families on the FB page of Multilingual Living at http://www.facebook.com/multilingualliving

  • khan

    Dear Christof,
    Dear Professor,

    Thanks for enlightening post written with specificity. I would like to share with you something on assimilative and subtractive language ideology emerging in my data. It may be a surprise for some of our readers that in Pakistan where English is proficiently used barely 2% of the population has private institutions whose vision and mission is to provide English assimilation environment within the school. One of my research participant said, ‘it is suicidal not to speak English all the time”. This is not an idiosyncratic view but is embedded in larger socio-economic inequalities among different sections of the population. The state schools only claim to provide English education and attended by poorest of the society. The elite send their children to become truly subtractive bilinguals, the best example from my data is the response of a mother who took such a great pride in saying that, ‘ oh my son does not know a word of Punjabi’ The mother and the father were the native speaker of Punjabi language.
    Best wishes,
    Khan

  • @Ingrid — Thank you for the FB link. Yes, indeed, very interesting comments. It gives me a feeling of solidarity to see these comments.

    @khan – Thank you for sharing your comment and data — very interesting and, if the ultimate goal is English monolingualism for elites in Pakistan (at least some of them), troubling as well.

  • @Khan: I think the comparison with Punjabi is a little misleading, since it’s a language that is generally dismissed by the elite as vulgar or only a dialect of Urdu (which is absolutely not true) for complicated reasons. However, speaking Urdu or Persian would be considered ok since they are higher-status languages. That said, I don’t doubt that speaking English is seen as paramount.

    @Christof: I really enjoyed this article, particularly the tallying of the cost of fighting the monolingual tide. My own research deals with multilingual resistance to the monolingual thesis and although I can intellectually follow the thought process that casts multilingualism as somehow undesirable, it still baffles me that anybody thinks deliberate monolingualism is a good idea.

  • Tallulah

    This is so similar to my experience, trying to ‘recapture’ the lost ancestral French of my grandfather and now pass it on to my children. Like you, I studied French at university (free fees at that time, though with loans for living costs only recently paid off!) and now I’m paying expensive French private school fees so my children may be balanced bilinguals. To think, we could’ve saved a small fortune! Happily, it’s working and both children do now speak fluent French and English 🙂

  • George

    Your article is missing one caveat: these calculations only apply to a two-income family that outsources language learning to paid instructors.

    My Japanese wife and I have raised two pre-teens at native grade-level Japanese fluency with an investment of roughly $15000 total–mostly for plane tickets and whatnot to bring the family to Japan when I was there for work, plus a home-based curriculum and subscription to a service that streams Japanese TV over the internet. And that’s in a place (rural Appalachia) with no one else to talk to in Japanese.

    The difference is that we didn’t use nannies or child care, and we homeschool. Their socializing and learning takes place in a Japanese-dominant environment–in the context of our daily lives, not something we pay someone else to do for us. Families like us aren’t common, but there are enough successful examples that discussions of the “monolingual public education system” need to be aware of the alternative we offer.

  • Carole

    This cracks me up.

    You seem to be implying that if you hadn’t wanted to ensure that your daughters are bi-lingual, you wouldn’t have had to pay for au pairs, a nanny, or private school, that they wouldn’t be going to college, and that you wouldn’t have taken family trips to Germany. That’s pretty extreme, doing ALL of that to ensure that they speak German fluently, but to each his own.

    That said, even if you COULD say that every penny of that (plus books, dvd’s, etc…) went straight towards making sure that your daughters speak German fluently, are you implying that our country should make the switch to a multi-language curriculum for EVERY child, simply to save you some money? How many languages should this curriculum include? Should we make street signs and government documents in all of those languages, too?

    Are you aware that we spend billions of dollars every year for the multi-lingual stuff we’re doing already? It’s a good thing our government has all that extra money lying around that isn’t needed elsewhere…. But you’re right, I’m sure they should spend more to save you some money….