Once considered too difficult to learn, learning German is now the newest fad.
This was the topic in a recent article in The Economist. Germany is again proving itself attractive culturally, commercially, and linguistically. In other words, maybe Germany is successfully expanding its soft power, a term coined by Joseph Nye of Harvard University in 1990.
There are several reasons why people all over the world are taking an interest in learning the language of Schiller and Goethe, and economically speaking it is not a bad idea. Professionals are finding learning German to be a great career investment. For the German export economy, this is good news. It is always more beneficial to a country when more people across the globe speak its language. This also will help equip Germany with more workers, which the country needs as its workforce ages.
It is not just inside Germany where more newcomers are learning the language. Outside Germany, many academic institutions are beginning to see an increase in courses for students to learn Deutsch. The Economist reported earlier this week that five public schools in Israel would have the option to learn German as a foreign language when they had back to school this year.
Germany’s image has also improved. Fifty years after Israel and Germany established diplomatic relations, 70 percent of Israelis now have a positive view of Germany. Many find Germans to be “honest and trustworthy”, according to a study published by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a German think-tank.
An eagerness to learn German has not always been universal. A survey in July 2004 found that whereas 97 percent of Germans had basic knowledge of English, and 25 percent were fluent. Meanwhile, only 22 percent of British students have any knowledge of the German language and less than 1 percent were fluent, according to research in Peter Watson’s The German Genius.
“Recently, however, German has experienced a bit of a comeback thanks to the impression that German-speaking countries have flourishing economies and are anchors of stability in Europe. That makes Germany more attractive to some extent, particularly in developing countries, because German language skills promise an advantage for the economy, people’s careers and also for academia,” said Socio-linguist Ulrich Ammon during an interview with Deutsche Welle.
By The Numbers
There are approximately 104 million native German speakers. German is also fourth in number of learners behind English, Chinese, and French. Some 15.5 million people now study German a 4 percent increase from five years ago.
In Ammon’s study published this year, “The Status of the German Language in the World”, he ranks German tenth in the number of native speakers across the globe. German is fourth in economic output produced by native speakers. This ranking includes Austrians, Belgians, Liechtensteiners, Luxembourgers, Swiss and others. This number helps reinforce the idea that learning German is an economic benefit.
Where exactly is German becoming popular? “Interest is growing fastest in Africa, Asia and eastern Europe, with the Balkans a hotspot. Many learn it mostly to boost their careers. Some hope to get a job in Germany, where certain industries are short of labour because the population is shrinking. Others want to engage Germany’s prodigious exporters. An interest in German culture develops along the way,” according to The Economist.
Sprechen Sie Deutsch?
While the German government promotes the growth of its language in foreign countries, they do not seem urgent to defend German language programs in other countries, as other countries such as China do. Still, some argue that the German government should be more demanding in defending its language. “…When France talked of a school reform that would have the (unintended) consequence of reducing German teaching, officials in Berlin merely muttered. German is hardly ever taught as a first language in schools anywhere. Officials simply hope to make German the second or third on offer in more places,” The Economist explained.
Ammon argues further that German needs to be recognized more in the European Union and United Nations as an official working language. Either way, it appears that the popularity of learning German across the globe has increased, which can only be good news for Germany.