Pennsylvania is home to people who share a rich cultural identity and language. Their language is Pennsylvania Dutch or Pennsylvania German. This is not the Dutch language of the Netherlands but the German dialect of West Central Germany. The most famous native speakers of this language are Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonites. Approximately 240,000 people in the United States speak Pennsylvania Dutch. It is an important part of their heritage and culture.
Acquiring language is a process that begins in infancy. Children born to Pennsylvania Dutch native speakers learn the language from their parents and siblings. If they live in a contained society that shuns outside influence like the Amish or Mennonites, it is easier to keep the language pure. Even these groups are prone to incorporating English terms into vocabulary especially if they are forced to seek work outside the community or obtain an education at an English speaking school.
A second way to learn Pennsylvania Dutch is to enroll in a class. Kutztown University of Pennsylvania offers two semesters in this language. Formal education provides students with a strong foundation in pronunciation, vocabulary, and idiomatic usage. Like any language, Pennsylvania Dutch must be practiced and used often. Student should take any opportunity available to use their growing conversation skills with native speakers.
The Internet provides a unique opportunity for individuals to learn Pennsylvania Dutch. Online classes offering the rudiments of the language are available. Common phrases are recorded and students repeat them until they commit them to memory. Other World Wide Web sites provide an opportunity to expand vocabulary by reading. An English/Pennsylvania Dutch dictionary is available on Wikipedia and there is even a version of Wikipedia in Pennsylvania German.
Learning traditional hymns and folk songs is another way to learn the rhythm and feel of Pennsylvania Dutch. Collect books of poetry, children's books, hymnals, and a Bible written in this beautiful, rich language.
It is a good idea to use all your senses when learning another language. Hearing and sight are just two of the senses commonly used. Add touch and smell to help write the words on your heart as well as in your head. Label common household items in Pennsylvania Dutch. Use your sense of touch; label the carpet, the bathroom tile, a child's stuffed toy, sandpaper, the sheets on your bed. Label your spices. Read the word for cinnamon and then inhale the spice. Use every resource available and in time, you will make Pennsylvania Dutch your own.