For­eign Lan­guages

Young pro­fes­sion­als learn Ger­man

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Learn­ing Euro­pean lan­guages may no longer have much ca­chet among school­child­ren, but for mil­len­ni­als eye­ing the job mar­ket, Ger­man ap­pears to be more at­trac­tive than ever. Grow­ing num­bers of young adults aged be­tween 18 and 30 in Bri­tain are learn­ing the lan­guage of Friedrich Schiller, Christa Wolf and Thomas Mann, ac­cord­ing to the Goethe-in­sti­tut, with more than 3,000 peo­ple sign­ing up for cour­ses run by the cul­tural in­sti­tu­tion. In 2018, about the same num­ber of stu­dents took a Ger­man A level — the high­est school-leav­ing exam in Bri­tain — a 16 per cent drop com­pared with 2017. This has caused angst among ed­u­ca­tion pro­fes­sion­als, who are con­cerned that Bri­tain is slid­ing fur­ther into mono­lin­gual­ism as it pre­pares for a fu­ture out­side the Euro­pean Union. Re­search by the Bri­tish Coun­cil shows that 34,300 stu­dents took A lev­els in French, Ger­man or Span­ish in 1997, com­pared with 19,200 in 2018 and just 17,505 ap­pli­ca­tions in 2019.

Yet there is some op­ti­mism on the part of An­gela Kaya, the direc­tor of the Goethe-in­sti­tut in Lon­don. “We see at the mo­ment a de­cline of our Euro­pean stu­dents, who maybe aren’t com­ing to the UK at the mo­ment be­cause they don’t know what Brexit will bring,” Kaya said. “But we are see­ing an in­crease of Bri­tish stu­dents who might think they haven’t learned Ger­man as a for­eign lan­guage so far and it makes sense to do it now, as a young pro­fes­sional. They are mostly aged be­tween 18 or 19 to about 30.”

Un­der­stand­ing the cul­ture

Learn­ing a for­eign lan­guage doesn’t just open doors to com­mu­ni­cat­ing with oth­ers; it also helps peo­ple un­der­stand the world bet­ter, Kaya said. Un­trans­lat­able words such as the Ger­man Gemütlichkeit, Hindi ju­gaad, Dan­ish hygge or Por­tuguese so­bremesa re­quire an un­der­stand­ing of the cul­ture they come from, and ma­chine trans­la­tion has many po­ten­tial pit­falls. It was re­ported that peo­ple us­ing Google Trans­late to turn a con­struc­tion sign’s mes­sage — “blast­ing in progress” — into Welsh were given “gwei­th­wyr yn ffr­wydro”, which means “work­ers ex­plod­ing”. Ju­lia Gross, the chargé d’af­faires at the Ger­man em­bassy in Lon­don, said the fall in the num­ber of Bri­tish pupils do­ing Ger­man at A level was dis­ap­point­ing and might not bode well for their fu­ture ed­u­ca­tional and pro­fes­sional op­tions. “This year’s fur­ther de­cline in the num­ber of A-level stu­dents study­ing mod­ern Euro­pean lan­guages, and Ger­man in par­tic­u­lar, is both sad­den­ing and trou­bling,” Gross said. “Ger­man is not just a smart choice for a mul­ti­tude of ca­reer paths, [it] also opens doors to Ger­man uni­ver­si­ties, which are very popular, not least be­cause they do not charge tu­ition fees.”

Last year, the writer John le Carré ex­tolled the joys of learn­ing Ger­man in a speech pub­lished in The Ob­server. He said: “You’ve prob­a­bly heard the Mark Twain gag: ‘Some Ger­man words are so long they have a per­spec­tive’. You can make up crazy ad­jec­tives like my-re­cently-by-my-par­ents-thrown-outof-the-win­dow­playsta­tion.”

Le Carré added: “And when you’re tired of floun­der­ing with nouns and par­tici­ples strung to­gether in a com­pound, you can turn for re­lief to the pris­tine po­ems of a Hölder­lin, or a Goethe, or a Heine, and re­mind your­self that the Ger­man lan­guage can at­tain heights of sim­plic­ity and beauty that make it, for many of us, a lan­guage of the gods.”

“Ger­man is not just a smart ca­reer choice, it also opens doors to Ger­man uni­ver­si­ties”

“Lan­guage of the gods”? Learn­ing Ger­man is good for one’s ca­reer

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