Male speaker interviewed by Jürgen Eichhoff, August 1968, Ashton, Dane Co.

A century ago, the linguistic landscape of Wisconsin was profoundly diverse; dozens of immigrant and Native American languages and dialects were spoken across the state. Today, the state’s population, as elsewhere in the U.S., is overwhelmingly English monolingual. Unfortunately, many speakers of languages other than English have viewed their heritage language as a handicap to the educational and economic success of their children, despite the real advantages — educational and economic — to being bilingual. This native Wisconsinite speaker of the Ripuarian German dialect from the Cologne area, close to the linguistic border between Low and High German, tells a familiar story of preferring that his children learn English only.

Dialect: Kölsch, Wisconsin German Dialects

Location: Dane, Wisconsin

Where did you learn German?

Well, I learned it at home. I couldn’t speak a word of English when I started school. And they couldn’t ask me questions because I couldn’t understand them. And now my own children don’t know any Kölsch. I always said I didn’t want to teach my children Kölsch or German because it’s so hard to learn two languages properly, so I thought they would be better off with just English, that way they can do better for themselves, and I guess they have come much further than I have. But the kids don’t think that way, they think I should have taught them Kölsch.–That’s what they think?–Yes, and they wish they could speak it, that’s a nice wish, but it didn’t happen.