When it comes to foreign languages, Americans are hesitant, teachers say, and generally shun tongues with complex grammar rules - like German, for instance.
But as the Berlin Wall crumbles, Americans are overcoming their fear of German and swelling enrollments in classes at cultural centers and universities.Some of the students are exploring their roots. Others, officials say, are betting that they will need the language to further their careers in business.
"As soon as the changes (at the Berlin Wall) started to happen, we got calls - people wanted to join our classes, but they were almost over," said Gabriele Landwehr, head of the language program at the Los Angeles branch of the Goethe Institute, a cultural and educational organization supported by the West German government.
"Right now, we get people who say, `You know, my German mother was from Bingen . . . and now I want to go see it,' " Landwehr said.
The number of classes at the institute, named for the German poet and scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, has doubled since the Berlin Wall started tumbling last November, she said.
German cultural centers in other cities report a similar rise in interest.
The Goethe Institute in Chicago doubled its language classes, and in Milwaukee, where German traditions are still carried on by 40 cultural groups, the Goethe House increased its number of German history classes by 25 percent, director Ernst Edlhauser said.
"When the wall story happened, many more Americans, very often people not of German descent, came and wanted to learn something about German history," Edlhauser said.
Some of those Americans are motivated by the bottom line, teachers say.
Students in the Chicago Goethe Institute are primarily businessmen and women, plus a large number of travel agents and airline attendants, director Walter Breuer said. In Los Angeles, a significant minority of students are business people from Asian and Latin American countries, Landwehr said.