Oktoberfest, beer, and blue-eyed, blond people dancing to oompah music–anyone who is involved in the teaching or promotion of German language and culture in the US has encountered these stereotypes and has probably felt torn between catering to them and deconstructing them.
In a recent NYT article, these stereotypes were cited as a problem and as reason why German as a language is difficult to promote among US students:
Traditionally, few minorities study German, and fewer still teach it. “Students, the study says, ‘must see black, Hispanic, Indian or other people of color who speak fluent German and can serve as role models.”
In addition to diversity among the students, diversity in course offerings is crucial. Citing a professor from Earlham College, the article points out how students and faculty from other disciplines embrace courses on topics such as the Jewish community
“in post-Holocaust Germany; Afro-Germans who trace their roots to Germany’s 19th-century African colonies; and Turkish Germans whose ties to Germany date to a labor agreement that brought thousands of Turkish laborers to Germany in the 1960s.”
Studying the diverse and globally linked culture and history of Germany and the German-speaking countries is at the core of the interdisciplinary German Studies program at Agnes Scott. This semester, for instance, students in the various language sections engage with the history of the Holocaust in German 202 and with the literature, culture, and politics of Turkish-Germans in German 360. In the fall semester of 2012, students have the opportunity to study the history and culture of Afro-Germans in German 340. And these are only a few of the topics addressed in the various courses.
While the NYT article describes an overall falling number of students enrolled in German courses, it is important to note that the Southeastern areas of the US see their enrollment numbers growing. In the state of Georgia, for instance, K-12 enrollment in German has grown from approximately 8,000 students to more than 11,000 over the last four years. According to Jon Valentine, coordinator of foreign languages at the Georgia Department of Education, the new engineering triangle, with Mercedes in Alabama, BMW in South Carolina, and VW in Tennessee, has increased the need for highly-skilled employees with good language proficiency. In response to the demand by leading global corporations trying to hire in the Southeast, Georgia’s DoE promotes a statewide push to integrate foreign languages, and especially German, across the curriculum.
While the push for more German instruction by industries does not directly affect the situation at colleges, it is safe to say that the proposed K-12 language initiative will eventually trickle up at to the college level and lead to a much more positive development than the one painted in the NYT article.