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Thread: @European-Americans, Why Don't You Speak the Native Language of Your Ancestors?

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    @European-Americans, Why Don't You Speak the Native Language of Your Ancestors?

    Anglo-Americans excluded.
    There's another thread about why German isn't a dominant language in the US, but I want to hear instead of assumptions and theories, your own personal stories and reasons.
    All American people on this site who consider themselves German, Danish, Norwegian, Dutch, please let know why you don't speak these languages. If you haven't been taught, why haven't you tried to learn it so far? What prevents you to learn it? Or do you learn it?

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    My Acadian ancestors were forced to speak English from childhood. It was against the law to speak French in school, and because English was the dominant language Cajun French just fell out of use. I'd learn it, but there are no teachers of it, and there's no point in learning a language that nobody else speaks anyway. Cajun French is going to be a dead language very soon.

    As for the German side of my family, my grandmother was known to still speak it, but none of her kids did because they didn't really see the point. They were completely Americanized. I'm now trying to teach myself German, though it's going slowly because I have no way to practice.

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    Senior Member Wulfram's Avatar
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    If Germany had won the war we probably would be.

    The language of English was imposed as a mandatory education in Europe was it not? In America it is only an option. If it had been taught as a necessary requirement to advance in life then many more Americans would be speaking it, and that includes negroes and hispanics as well .

    America has been built up in the psyche of most Europeans as the holy grail of culture. Europeans have been obssessed with American culture since the war and this includes learning the language of English with an almost engratiating enthusiasm. Through time we Americans witnessed these humble attempts to please and it only confirmed in our minds that English was the supreme language and that there was no need to learn another, especially if Europeans were already willing to learn English to bridge the gap.

    Another good reason for why most of us don't speak German is because the system does not want Germanic-American children to know the language of their ancestors. This might spark an interest in them to pursue Germanic studies. If this happens then there would be the chance that these same students might get an inkling of a hint that Germany was the victim of the war and not the other way around. This could lead to a larger number of Americans willing to support Germany, when the system wants us all to despise it.

    Most Germanic languages are considered a trifle "exotic", and many down to earth Americans consider the exotic to be something that is just too weird to deal with, so they dont. This is especially true of German itself. Most Americans do not want to study German because they don't want to be compared to a Nazi.

    My grandparents spoke German, but after the war I was told that they chose to never speak it again. With my anti-German education, I actually considered this move a wise and just one.

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    Well I am learning French in school. My father knows Spanish. He stutters and hesitates when he speaks though, and I would say he is much more proficient in English without me even knowing a word past the numbers of Spanish. I found it quite beautiful to hear my Grandmother speak it with that much clearer and song-like quality of the European Spanish and it has inspired me to learn it someday. This is something you don't hear in the U.S when the average Spanish spoken is from a mestizo or mulatto who seems to be speaking a totally different language.

    I can't really associate with my German/Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry since it has been so far off. This is even if it is probably the most influential on my life today and shaped me the most as a person. I would love to learn German or Dutch if it was to be offered to me and I had the time. So on my list of languages to learn it will probably be finish French in school, learn Spanish(since I have close family that still speak it very useful), then learn a low Germanic language(preferably Dutch.) Then I would like to spread out into maybe a Slavic language just since I know very little about Eastern European culture and one of the best ways to learn a culture is through the language. This is all hoping that I live long enough to learn all of them.

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    Senior Member Ward's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bärin View Post
    Anglo-Americans excluded.
    There's another thread about why German isn't a dominant language in the US, but I want to hear instead of assumptions and theories, your own personal stories and reasons.
    All American people on this site who consider themselves German, Danish, Norwegian, Dutch, please let know why you don't speak these languages. If you haven't been taught, why haven't you tried to learn it so far? What prevents you to learn it? Or do you learn it?

    Well, I was born and raised in America which in my view makes me American. I don't consider myself German or Norwegian or Irish even though I owe my blood to those nations, and I am fiercely proud of my ancestry, to an extent that one might even call religious. ()

    To the point though, I'm embarrassed that I'm only fluent in one language. Visiting this site reinforces my sense of shame when I see so many Europeans writing in essentially flawless English. It blows my mind, really. In fact, I would say that many of you have a better command of writing in English than do the majority of American undergraduate college students.

    Anyway, since it is the blood of the Teutons that runs deepest in my veins, German is the language that has always most interested me most, and it would be useful to learn since it still has a considerable number of speakers. Not long ago I was starting to get the hang of it with the help of a German girl I dated, but then things fell through between us and the immediate pressure to learn it was gone. For a while after the breakup, trying to speak German served as painful reminder of her, but now that I'm over it I have no excuse other than laziness.

    I do feel, however, that some "assumptions and theories" on this topic are in order to get a better sense for the language situation in America. For the most part, European immigrants were not too concerned with passing on their ancestral tongue because they were committed to becoming Americans, as they should have been. All of my dad's grandparents were native German-speaking immigrants; his parents were semi-fluent in German; he cannot speak a lick of it outside of a few words. This is a common family pattern in America, but I don't think it differs much from the history of immigrant assimilation in other countries (at least in the case of inter white/Germanic immigration over the centuries).

    Here in modern times, a big reason why Americans in general (as well as other native English speakers) generally have little interest in learning other languages is that we speak the most dominant language in the world. We live on a large, predominately English-speaking continent. In contrast, Europe is smaller, more crowded, and home to a polyglot of languages. We can travel almost anywhere on the planet and find people who can accommodate us with our language. We are in completely different circumstances than, say, native Dutch or Norwegian speakers. These folks are basically limited to communicating with others in only a very small corner of the world if they can't speak any other languages.


    If I may ask, Baerin, how did you become so fluent in English at a relatively young age?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ronan View Post
    The language of English was imposed as a mandatory education in Europe was it not? In America it is only an option. If it had been taught as a necessary requirement to advance in life then many more Americans would be speaking it, and that includes negroes and hispanics as well .

    America has been built up in the psyche of most Europeans as the holy grail of culture. Europeans have been obssessed with American culture since the war and this includes learning the language of English with an almost engratiating enthusiasm. Through time we Americans witnessed these humble attempts to please and it only confirmed in our minds that English was the supreme language and that there was no need to learn another, especially if Europeans were already willing to learn English to bridge the gap.
    Good points.
    Last edited by Ward; Monday, September 14th, 2009 at 03:06 AM. Reason: addition

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    Senior Member Papa Koos's Avatar
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    No grandparental cooperation

    When I was a child I used to hear my grandparents speaking German with one another often (strangely when they were aware that one of us grandkids had entered the room they'd make a smooth and automatic transition to English, which they spoke with a slight accent).

    Once when I asked my grandfather to teach me German he replied, "No no, you're an American so you speak English; besides we are Schwabe and if you learned our dialect educated Germans would laugh at you!"

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    Quote Originally Posted by Torch_Bearer View Post
    If I may ask, Baerin, how did you become so fluent in English at a relatively young age?
    I studies it in school and by myself. Besides modern Germany is full of Anglicisms and using a computer and the Internet makes it inevitable.

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    I'm currently taking a German class in school, and eventually I'm also going to take Irish Gaelic.

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    Senior Member Ward's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bärin View Post
    I studies it in school and by myself. Besides modern Germany is full of Anglicisms and using a computer and the Internet makes it inevitable.
    Ah, I see. With all your swearing, I figured you might have spent a few years on the mean streets of New York honing your skills.

    Just kidding, your English is great. But if you ever visit America, just try to avoid saying things like "Gimmie a f**kin' hamburger."

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    In high school I studied Spanish, which was very useful in the building trade in the Deep South. I got daily practice and use from it. I could see it being a useful choice for kids (more so than French or Latin).

    I took Russian in collage for a semester and it is currently the only language other than English that I study. I get a chance to use Russian often enough at work so that makes it a good choice as a foreign language for an Alaskan to study.

    Not many German-speakers come to my area and there given the low, low German birthrate... there might be much of point for any American to learn it in the future.

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