When society doesn’t value something you, as an individual, do, you, the individual, end up paying for society’s lack of valuation.
That’s the case with our personal home language situation and the frustrating lack of valuation of meaningful multilingualism in the United States.
Not a single public school in the state of Colorado, where we live, offers German language immersion, although, eight public schools, most of them in the Denver/Boulder area, offer other language immersion options – Spanish, Chinese, French, and, in one case, Russian.
Language immersion schools .004% of American schools
Nationally, according to the Center for Applied Linguistics Directory of Foreign Language Immersion Programs in U.S. Schools, 448 schools – this includes private schools – offer some form of language immersion education. That’s just .004% of the approximately 99,000 public schools the National Center for Education Statistics says are in the U.S.
For the past two years, we’ve enrolled our two daughters, now 7 and 5, in the Colorado International School (COIS), a private language immersion school in Denver — and the only school in the state of Colorado that offers German language immersion. We’re going to enroll them for a third year in 2012-13.
By the end of 2013, we will have spent nearly $60,000 in tuition. If we continue to enroll the children at COIS through eighth grade, we will have spent more than $200,000.
That’s a lot of money – and this total doesn’t even include the tens of thousands of dollars we’ve spent on German-speaking au pairs and German-speaking nannies.
High financial duress
I am definitely feeling the financial duress of swimming against the assimilating American English monolingual stream. Despite this very real stress — during the past seven years we’ve spent up to a third of our total income on German for the kids, a total my wife rightly finds rather high — I am extremely reluctant to pull our children from COIS and place them into the American public education system.
So far, we’ve beaten the odds and our daughters’ dominant language, the one they speak to each other nearly 100 percent of the time, German, is a minority/immigrant language, not the locally, nationally, and globally dominant language of English.
Now, this might not seem like such a big deal. After all, there are plenty of other families around the world whose children speak a non-dominant, non-local language to each other.
However, I doubt many have achieved what we have under the personal and social circumstances we have. Let me explain:
- I am not a native speaker of German – my German father who emigrated to the U.S. in the 1960s, did not pass German on to his children; I learned German primarily in college;
- My wife does not speak German;
- We live in the United States, where, despite the fact that German heritage continues to be the leading historical heritage, the German language has comparatively little presence;
I am 100 percent certain if we placed our daughters in a monolingual English public school – thus saving ourselves $20,000 per year — within no more than six months our daughters would no longer be speaking German to each other. It’s also questionable how much German they would be speaking with me at that point.
American public education = language killer
To me, that feels a lot like language death, with the American public education system the clear language killer. In fact, a part of me will die inside when my daughters give up speaking German to me and to each other, as I have become very emotionally attached to the tiny, German speaking world we’ve created.
Yes, we could maintain our daughters’ German language learning via other means – for instance, via the Internet (which we already do), me speaking only German to them, and via after-school programs.
But it’s clear to me that when our daughters stop using German regularly in their everyday life, as would inevitably occur if they were placed in an English monolingual public school, they will slide backward. At that point, our struggle to raise meaningful German-English bilinguals will become much more difficult, though we will save a lot of money.
Of course, to me, deep, lifelong multilingual ability — my long-term goal is for our daughters to be able to pass the so-called Grosses Deutsches Sprachdiplom — is incredibly valuable. Sadly, it’s not viewed that way by most Americans, which is why we’re having to pay so much to ensure that our children are multilingual.