Language Spoken

Most common language spoken other than English and Spanish by state:

Yet German and French programs are dying all over the country.

18 thoughts on “Language Spoken”

  1. Why are German and French programs dying?
    I remember some conference report where the big issue seemed to be the urgent need to import non-binary pronouns into French… while recognizing burqas as important feminist symbols (or something…) is the whole field like that?
    I thought language programs at US universities live and die on undergraduate enrollment (for language requirements). Have language requirements faded?
    When I left US university graduate studies were being turned into immigrant diploma factories and so students from China or India were not interested in foreign language classes… but undergrads were still overwhelmingly citizens who desperately needed the secondary skills that come with foreign language studies.
    What’s going on?

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    1. Unless we get rid of our French program, my whole department is going to die. I’m hoping to be the one to bury French. It’s unsalvageable because the faculty in these programs are so extraordinarily reluctant to accept that it’s not 1982 that they are unsalvageable. I hate being the person who will kill french but I begged,cajoled and asked politely for them to see reason. And they won’t.

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    2. I was at the meeting of French professors at the MLA in January (it was an award thing), and all they wanted to talk was how the French are evil for resisting the pronoun mania. The award-winning article in French was, obviously, on pronouns. I wonder why students aren’t lining up.

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    3. In most of the states with German on that list the German speakers are mostly really old people or Amish, neither group is filling up the college classrooms.

      The state of German programs at US universities is really all over the place, many are dying, but some are doing just fine. Lots of people are stuck in 1982 like Clarissa’s colleagues in French and conceive of language teaching as nothing but a series of extended grammar explanations, drills, and worksheets. There is a really harmful tradition/custom/belief in US German teaching that all major points of grammar have to be taught in the first year and reviewed in more depth in the second. It’s a ridiculous amount of material to cover in four semesters unless you do nothing but drill grammar, but some people are unwilling to pare it down or recognize that some aspects of grammar are far more important than others.

      For example, I know two of the intermediate instructors in my department had a fight about teaching and testing the Konjunktiv I a while back. The German Konjunktiv I is only used in fairly formal writing, it’s something that maybe 10% of native speakers ever produce outside of formal schooling. My approach and the approach of one of the Intermediate instructors is that we should teach it for recognition, students should know what it is if they encounter it in a text, but few of our students will ever need to produce this. (I wouldn’t teach it at all at the Intermediate level if it didn’t come up in the textbook.) The other intermediate instructor insisted that it was really important to teach our students to produce this and that producing it had to be a major component on the chapter test, the chapter test was the focus of the disagreement. In general, the Intermediate program spends way too much time on grammar. We have a textbook full of history, art, music, literature and other interesting cultural content and the tests are mostly focused on grammar. My program is doing OK-ish because at least some of us know that giving the students interesting things to read, watch and talk about is more effective and motivating than endless grammar explanations and we push the others in that direction, but that’s not the case in every program.

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      1. “recognize that some aspects of grammar are far more important than others”

        Exactly. For German Konjunktiv is really a kind of non-issue most of the time (sei, würde is about all most people would ever need to know).
        I’ve taught Polish (informally and people invariably said they understand things far better after my classes than after most Polish teachers – trained to teach high school Polish to native speakers and who therefore have completely different priorities).
        I clear away vast amounts of trivia that matter for formal usage by native speakers and don’t matter at all in most daily interactions (especially numbers, a nightmare in Slavic languages in general and Polish in specific – even native speakers have trouble keeping some forms straight).
        I’m also a big fan of using pop culture in language classes (esp popular culture created for the… less discerning). I learned more Polish from Donald Duck comics (and more German from John Sinclair and the like than from the ambitious plans of language teachers (okay I can still recite about half of Erlkönig from memory but that’s different).

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        1. The würde + infinitive construction is Konjunktiv II, which is fairly common in speaking. The Konjunktiv I (sometimes called the “special subjunctive” in textbooks”) is used for indirect discourse in formal writing, it’s 1000 times less important than the Konjunktiv II.

          For the Konjunktiv II, I teach the proper conjugation for haben, sein, and the modal verbs and würde + infinitive for all other verbs. That’s all you need to navigate daily life in Germany.

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  2. That map doesn’t reflect the absolute number comparison of the third most spoken language to English and Spanish.
    As for German, you know about the effect of World Wars I & II on German speaking in America. French, I’m not sure why the programs are dying.

    The maps reflect either a past immigrant community, a current immigrant community in a large city, or large Native American reservations.

    I don’t think it’s the pronouns or the wokeness or grad students from China or India causing your programs in America to die. Most people barely need to read literature in English let alone German or French. In fact, most people barely read, which is a requirement to notice the pronouns or the wokeness. [Memes generally have some words.]

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    1. Students won’t join programs that are boring, irrelevant and unexciting. There must be a reason why these programs flourished a couple of decades ago but are dying now. The number of literate people hasn’t changed. So what did? Well, the programs themselves changed immensely.

      Even Spanish is going in a bad direction. I’m lucky that I did my BA 20 years ago. If I started it now, it’s almost certain I wouldn’t have stayed. And it’s not because I dislike reading.

      The quality of graduate research has fallen off a cliff. Which means that new professors will be incapable of connecting to students. Which means plummeting enrollment and closing programs.

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      1. I couldn’t tell you what research my French professors did; I have no idea. But at least I got to know that there’s a diaspora of French speakers beyond France because of the short stories I read.

        Are you speaking of undergrads generally enrolling in any language programs or the number of people finish majors? Or people who go to grad school? Because those have progressively smaller pools of people.

        Literacy, like spoken fluency, has different levels. Can I read newspapers in French? Sure. Am I going to read post-modernist literature or legal documents in French? No. I don’t have nearly the base to attempt it.

        As I talk to people, I count myself extremely lucky to find someone who even reads for pleasure in any language, let alone the elevated literature which you study.

        And as much as woke pronouns irritate you, I think the fact that English is the dominant language the world over has more to do with this shrinking. And if you’re thinking of language trends, emojis, text speak and meme speak together with ubiquitous screens destroy the notion of a story or a book that takes more than five minutes to breeze through. Who is going to struggle through something with a dictionary or that takes more than an hour of sustained concentration? There will always be some people who will do it, but the pool of such people has shrunk.

        Imagine any of these students reading Ducks, Newburyport. Now imagine it in translation. :-p

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        1. “I think the fact that English is the dominant language the world over”

          Except it isn’t… in Europe it’s the most widely learned foreign language but the level is pretty basic and most can’t do (and/or don’t want to do) much more than exchange pleasantries/banalities… knowledge of English it’s broad but extremely shallow, a useful tool that most people don’t have any special affection for…

          But true, immigrant languages (by definition) are not supposed to be maintained and so Tagalog and Korean or Haitian Creole don’t have much future in the US. American Indian languages are another issue. Spanish is in a weird place because it pre-dates English in some parts and is also an immigrant language… I don’t think many French speakers immigrate to the US anymore…

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  3. My bad evaluations are all about NOT doing enough grammar, mechanical worksheets, and so on. I have too much culture and critical thinking. I do want them to get syntax more or less right, and I do want them to get a decent vocabulary, but I’m not into these super-mechanical exercises. I’m all for “complete this sentence: I wish _________” or “turn this statement into a question” or “rewrite this from another point of view or in the past,” etc., but I don’t like fill in the blank. Because I don’t, I’m “disorganized” and a “bad teacher.”

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    1. I’m exactly the same. And I end up having to compete with people who do final exams in language courses in the multiple choice form. As in:

      “Is he tenido

      A) present perfect
      B) past subjunctive
      C) preterite

      It’s a regular language course, mind you.

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      1. Boo.

        Why not make people diagram sentences while they’re at it? Then make them create a word cloud like it’s ten years ago. Pick a scene from Like Water For Chocolate or Betty La Fea or an Isabel Allende novel or that “maldita lisiada” scene from Maria la del Barrio. Then watch your brain drip outside of your ears at grading 30 exam diagrams of inanities.

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      2. “It’s a regular language course”

        That sounds like (what I’ve been told) English ‘classes’ are like in Spain – learning how to articulate antiquated rules that have never been valid (like the old shall/will rule) in Spanish…. our students go there on Erasmus specifically for Spanish but those that try to go to English classes too are bitterly disappointed, the most advanced classes for English majors are sub-high school level…

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        1. God, I was tortured with the minute differences between “may, might, shall, etc” for years by professors who couldn’t say a single comprehensible sentence in English. I hate this kind of teaching.

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        1. Absolutely nothing. I then have to explain to students that you can’t learn to speak a language through speaking about the language. They all know these grammar terms better than I do but can’t speak. So what’s the point?

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