My great grandparents, Carl and Albertine Schumacher immigrated to the United States from Germany, before they even knew each other. When they arrived, they, like most immigrants, could not speak English very well. It made communication difficult in those early years. Eventually, they learned enough English to get by, but the family still spoke German in the home. German continued to be the home language for many years. In fact, it would take a teacher at the school where their two oldest children, Anna and Albert attended, who made fun of their language, to change their home life forever. When the children came home upset about the thoughtlessness of the teacher, my great grandmother, said, “That’s it!! From now on, this family will speak only English in this house!” She did it to protect her children from further ridicule, but looking back on that time now, I think it is a bit sad that the German language that had been a part of their heritage for generation and generations, was now lost forever. I know that my great grandparents probably always remembered the language, but for their children much of it was lost, and for their children, it was completely lost.
When I was in school, I fell in love with the German language, and took it in school for four years. It was so interesting to me to speak the German language, but the biggest problem was that I had no one to speak it with at home. I can see how speaking one language in the home and another at school could have become a problem for my grandmother and great uncle. It would be hard for them to learn English when German was spoken in the home. I know that the opposite made it very hard for me. The only time I got to speak German was the hour I had class each day. It would be especially confusing for younger children. Nevertheless, I think it could be done, and would have been beneficial for all of the children.
Over the years, I have been an advocate for English being our countries official language, and I still feel that way, but I also think it is great when people can speak more than one language. In my opinion, it is rude to speak another language in the company of people who cannot speak it back, because they invariably get the feeling that you are talking about them, and perhaps you are. Even if you aren’t, they will always believe you were. That is why I think it is important to consider those around you when choosing to speak a language that is not the common one to the area you are in. Of course, when you are not in a conversation with those around you, like in a grocery store, it’s a different thing. I think people should pass their heritage, culture, and language down to children and grandchildren, because it will never be something they regret giving them, but it is also important to embrace their new home when they immigrate, because that is where you will live, work, and socialize from then on.