One of the most common misconceptions regarding the Amish culture is that they only speak English. While most Amish communities do in fact teach English, they actually learn another language first. Of course the English language is necessary for them to interact and perform business transactions with non-Amish individuals. Without it, they simply wouldn't be able to communicate with outsiders. If you're interested in learning more about what languages are taught and used by the Amish, keep reading.
Like most forms of education and learning, the languages taught in Amish communities varies depending on the specific community. With that said, most places in Lancaster and the surrounding areas teach Pennsylvania Dutch as their first language. Pennsylvania Dutch is a dialect of German that was actually their first original language, which is why they place such an emphasis on it today. It's important to note, however, that Pennsylvania Dutch is not a written language; therefore, there are no complete dictionaries or books written using it.
Children raised in Amish communities are taught Pennsylvania Dutch while limiting their exposure to English. Most communities feel that Pennsylvania Dutch is a more important language since it's what their beliefs and structure were originally founded upon. As children go to their daily school classes, teachers hand out lessons on the Pennsylvania Dutch language. These teachings continue at home where the parents of the children also help them learn the old Pennsylvania Dutch language.
Children continue to learn and speak the Pennsylvania Dutch language up until they reach the age of 6. At this time, elders and teachers in the community begin introducing them to a new language – English. As previously stated, English is necessary because of the strong business relationship between Amish communities and non-Amish individuals. It's not uncommon for Amish communities to have bakeries, woodworking shops, tool shops and other businesses where outsiders come to seek their products and services. This type of commerce is essential for their growth and prosperity. Since English is used so frequently, most Amish children won't have a problem picking it up. In fact, there are some children who learn the language before the age of 6 simply because so many people use it.
Hopefully this gives you a better understanding on what languages the Amish speak. You'll certainly hear English used in most television programs, but they still place a greater emphasis on the teaching of Pennsylvania Dutch. Once this language is learned, they will begin to focus on English.