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German language in US public schools

Appears as though many public schools have dropped teaching German - what happened?

July 24, 2017



The US is a huge country. There are classes in Yiddish in Oklahoma & Texas, which you'd normally find in NY. Anishnaabemowin (Ojibwe) classes in Upper Michigan Wisconsin. My university has Anishnaabe, French, German (the most popular one, about 3x as many German majors as other languages), Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and occasionally they offer Latin and other things. My university is not that well-known. We have a Korean tutoring program from the Korea Club. Also, German was required at my middle school in the US. We had to take a year program which was 1/4 of: French, German, Spanish and Japanese. So - it really depends on where you are, because when I went to my last study abroad conference 90% of people were going to Germany. 30+ people in the room. But I do wonder what has happened to Italian in the USA. That's the language that is hard to find.


To my knowledge, New York City is the only part of the U.S. with a significant concentration of Italians... I suppose which languages are taught in a particular part of the country has a lot to do with which people live there, and Italian is unlikely to get a lot of traction in places where there are not many people of Italian heritage.


The Italian community in Boston is certainly prominent, and Wikipedia tells me the same is true in Philadelphia. But I didn't go to high school in either of those places---at my high school in metro Detroit the language options were Spanish, French and German when I was there in the late '90s to early '00s. So I would agree with swingbeatnik7 (another Michigander, I see) that Italian was a notable omission. I took Spanish, which I believe had the largest enrollment, while I think German had the lowest enrollment.

I just checked that my old school now offers Spanish, Chinese and French, and its Web site suggests that French now has the lowest enrollment. The Web site also highlights that the school's focus is "World Languages", so I suspect they are more interested in the global prominence of the languages they offer rather than their local predominance or usefulness.

Edit to add: While I wouldn't say the global prominence of German has really declined in the past 15 years, that of Chinese has probably risen. I suspect both this and the low German enrollment contributed to German being replaced by Chinese.


I understand that, but there are so many places that teach French, German, Spanish and others in the US. You'd think there would be more interest in Italian because of the cultural affect happened to the States when Italians came over. I bet you'd find a lot of Italian courses in NY and NJ universities.


In my school system it's Spanish and French. (CT, USA)

They had Chinese, but it was cut due to the budget and disinterest.

Now they're getting rid of French, making it unavailable to grades in Middle School, which will eventually climb up to 12th grade and out of the system in about 5/6 years.

I hear they had German some 50/60 years ago (my school is from the 1800's)

They're just cutting them because they need money to be put towards other things, and people just aren't interested.

In fact, people at my school hate languages. They do it because they have to.

The catholic middle school near me teaches Latin. Completely useless because as soon as they get to high school they have to drop it.


I took it through high school (and part of middle school), but honestly, Latin was a more popular program. Few students took German, partly due to the "crabby" and "strict" reputations of the German teachers, and partly due to an emphasis on learning Spanish (which is honestly far more useful in our area, but that metric hasn't quelled the popularity of the French program). I don't think German will be dropped since they have the resources to offer a new language every few years on top of whatever they already have. Though, to give you an idea - when it came budgets and funds, the school board recently decided freshman football was a higher priority than the ESL (English as a Second Language) program. Stingy jerks, ugh.

But yeah, I'd say German instruction is declining because of lack of funding, lack of interest, and/or stinginess if the funding's there. Not too many universities seem to have German degree programs either, so qualifications (simply finding a certified German teacher) might also be an issue.


My U.S. public high school did not offer German, but the high school in the next town over did. I was always super jealous.


Hmm, maybe my case is an anomaly? I went to a Lutheran private grade school which taught the kids German as part of their heritage through the 7th and 8th grades. I decided to continue German in high school. My high school had the best funded German program in my state. We always had amazing teachers, immersive cultural field trips to German restaurants and Christmas markets. We even had an out of school trip to a lake resort where we spoke German all weekend. The third and fourth year students even go to Germany and Austria with a German family for two weeks in the summer.

German was alive and well at my school, although it, French, and Chinese were all suffering due to Spanish's growing influence.


I went to a Lutheran High School. German and Latin were our two language options and one was required for all freshman and sophomores.

I was told the reason for German and Latin was to prepare the future pastors for seminary. I think it was actually the reverse, though. We had so many pastors teaching at the school that had only ever learned German and Latin that there was nobody qualified to teach anything else.

For reference, the city the school was in had a population that was 20% hispanic, so Spanish would have been both logical and useful.


I've been teaching Latin at the secondary level and have had the opportunity to watch my districts and some of those around me add or remove languages. The decision isn't as straightforward as you might think.

We offer Italian because we get a grant (from an Italian American association) that covers a beginning teachers salary. This allows us to have another teacher in the department than we could normally afford and reduces all language class sizes.

Many districts add languages to keep up with competitive districts. Mandarin, Japanese, Arabic, and Russian are trendy right now among school superintendents. People outside of education are impressed when one of these "hard" languages is offered. School districts are often pressured to be (or at least, appear) competitive.

Students' attitudes is also a large factor. A large portion of students like the idea of knowing a second language, but have no real interest in learning one. The often look for the path of least resistance and see ä, ü, or ö and are scared off. It's a shame really.

Hopefully German will make a comeback.


My high school (North-Eastern England) offers French and German, however many schools replace German with Spanish or even Italian, but French is in pretty much every school.

Learn German in just 5 minutes a day. For free.