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The Prevalence of the German Language in the U.S.

Weekly Update from the Director – February 2, 2024
Dear GISC Community,

Within the 330 million U.S. population, we have census data that shows that 42 million people aged five or older speak Spanish at home, and thus Spanish is the most frequently spoken language other than English. In taking a closer look at what frequently used language beyond English and Spanish exists in the U.S., the German language is the third most prevalent language in the U.S., being spoken quite frequently in 13 states. This is particularly due to the fact that 40 million Americans claim German ancestry.
As far as acquiring another language during the U.S. K-12 educational system, a recent report by the National K-12 Foreign Language Enrollment Survey calculates that “only 10.6 million K-12 students are studying a world language or American Sign Language.” The rates of language acquisition in the U.S. education system vary widely from state to state. In some states, only 10% of students learn another language; in a state such as New Jersey, more than 50% of students learn another language.
46% of U.S. students who study another language in their K-12 years, are learning Spanish with 21% of students studying French. Chinese, German, and Latin are the only other languages which “account for more than 5% of the courses offered in the U.S. school system.”
The most important aspects of our multi-language approach at GISC are:
1) Our early childhood commitment to two languages (and for a significant proportion of our families, this commitment extends to a third and sometimes fourth language).
2) The amount of time students spend in either German or English languages each and every day; and formally beginning their third language study in 5th grade.
This rich immersion into languages has significant advantages as regards cognitive functioning: “The cognitive benefit is from having to inhibit your mother tongue,” says Caitlin Ware, a research engineer at Broca Hospital in Paris who studies bilingualism and brain health. Your brain is forced to inhibit the mother language if you’re trying to recall the right words in another language. “So if the second language is used a lot, you’re getting that cognitive training.” That process – called cognitive inhibition – is linked to better executive functioning.

All the best,
German International School Chicago is a preschool through 8th grade school that prepares students to become well-rounded, creative, and responsible global citizens. We provide students with a rigorous German-English bilingual education in a supportive and individualized learning environment.

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