The theme of the March issue of the German library journal, Buch and Bibliothek, takes a closer look at “Transatlantic Initiatives”. Bernd Schleh, editor of Buch and Bibliothek, asked me to write an article giving an overview of the situation of German in the US. The editors chose the title, “The Competition is Growing,” with the subtitle, “German Language and Culture are Losing Their Standing in the USA”. The article itself examines the issue more closely, of course. According to the German Federal Office of Statistics, in the year 2000, 42.8 million Americans (15%) declared that they were of German or part German heritage. So in 2000, as was the case in preceding years as well, those with German roots were the most prevalent. Moreover, 1.4 million Americans stated that they speak German at home. But the role that German culture and language play in the United States doesn’t necessarily reflect these numbers. Only c. 400,000 American elementary and secondary school students learn German, which is a relatively small number of the 53.8 million such students in the US, but one that also reflects the primary lack of interest Americans show in learning a foreign language. German nevertheless places third in the foreign languages that US students learn. The situation in colleges and universities is a similar one: German is offered at 1,200 institutions of higher learning and roughly 0.6% of all students learn German. So at the college level German also places third among foreign languages.
German collections in university libraries historically have been held in high regard. But in the interim there are only 25 university libraries that are systematically and extensively expanding their German collection. In public libraries a general downward trend is observed. The sinking demand for German titles has led over the years to a declining offering.
A further indicator of the difficult situation of foreign languages in the US is the number of translations: Only 3 percent of all books published in the US are translations, of which three-fourths are non-fiction titles, so that in the year 2004 only 874 literary translations were published in the United States.
This makes even more important the various initiatives of the Goethe-Institut, which range from the promotion of German as a Foreign Language to partner school initiatives to the German-American Partnership Program and the Transatlantic Outreach Program to financial support for translations. Also those activities carried out in the context of library cooperation - from the existence of the Library of the Goethe-Institut New York to the regular postings on this blog - help to keep alive and strengthen the dialogue between Germany and the US.
(The article can be found on pp. 214-217 in the March 2010 issue of 'Buch und Bibliothek'. Free access to the article is available c. six months after publication on the magazine's website.)
Monday, 29. March 2010
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