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Fewer people abroad learn German
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Fewer people abroad learn German

Published: 08 Sep 2011 14:38 GMT+02:00
Updated: 08 Sep 2011 14:38 GMT+02:00

Around 15 million people are learning German as a foreign language overseas, five million fewer than just ten years ago, according to new statistics from the Goethe Institute.

So why the steep decrease in popularity?

“Language classes cost money,” said Matthias Makowski, manager of the language training department at the Goethe Institute, which promotes German culture abroad.

And because of limited financial resources, other countries often only teach one mandatory foreign language: English.

“Nothing against English,” Makowski said, explaining educators simply needed to be more creative when making language decisions are made. For instance, classes, such as history, biology or geography, could be conducted in English, leaving room for students to learn another foreign language like German.

However, in Britain, where second languages are optional from the age of 14, reduced numbers of students have picked modern languages in the last two years

The 2011 GCSE results showed a 13 percent decrease in students taking the exams in both German and French, down to 60,887 and 154,221 pupils, respectively.

As an underlying mission, the Goethe Institute exists so that the knowledge of foreign languages, specifically German, is seen as something positive, or even considered necessary, “of course according to personal interests,” Makowski said.

For short-term travellers to Germany, though, the need to understand German is basically obsolete.

“It isn't important at all because you get by with speaking English," said Janette Schuchman, deputy director of the German National Tourism Office. “The Germans have to learn (English) from an early age and many of them really like practising."

Instead, according to Goethe Institute, interest in the German language often peaks along with celebrity exposure in the media. Popular bands can help attract new German learners – after a recent Tokio Hotel tour, interest in German courses raised dramatically, the Goethe Institute said.

Likewise, the company reported higher-than-average interest in German classes after events like Michael Schumacher winning the Formula 1 racing championship or Oliver Kahn and the FC Bayern Munich football team bagging important games abroad.

Business German

Pop culture and travel aside, most people who learn German hope for a concrete outcome: improved career opportunities.

“The old motivation, to learn the language of the poets and philosophers, to read Goethe or Kant in the original text, is generally not the case today,” Mokowski said.

“People know that Germany is an important economic factor.”

And German companies with satellite locations increasingly expect employees to speak fluent German.

In Poland, as well as in countries such as India and China, interest in learning German remains high. Japan and Korea, for example, count German as an official education language. The number of German learners in Brazil has also increased.

France, on the other hand, shows a downward trend in people learning German, while interest in countries from the former Soviet Union is also declining.

In the 1990s – in conjunction with the fall of the Iron Curtain – the number of German learners in Eastern Europe was extremely high. Today, according to the Goethe Institute, the numbers have levelled out.

All in all, Makowski remains relaxed about the number of German learners abroad, remembering languages also have something to do with demographic development.

“The position of the German language worldwide isn’t nearly as poor as is always talked about,” he said.

DAPD/The Local/emh

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

19:50 September 8, 2011 by Lachner
I think the main reason that not a lot of people want to learn the German language nowadays is because people think that there is no real benefit to learn it. There are only five countries in the World that speak German (Germany, Luxembourg, Lichtenstein, Austria and Switzerland), it is very hard to become proficient in it (24 - 36 months), the language is not as attractive or romantic as French, Spanish or Italian and then if you learn it to improve your career, you will have a tough time to get a work permit in Germany. Therefore, most people just don't seem attracted to it.

Nonetheless, I think that learning German is a huge advantage since Germany has one of the most stable and powerful economies in the World and not a lot people know how to speak German around the World so this makes you unique. When I was learning it I thought that it was a terrible language and that Germans were rude, but now I really like it and I feel that Germans are awesome.
20:46 September 8, 2011 by armagh1000
I never regret having studied German at school and then at University. It is a wonderful language with beautiful literature. It may not be the easiest language to learn but it is certainly worth the effort.
21:36 September 8, 2011 by finanzdoktor
I have taken language courses in both "Koreanisch und Deutsch." Although there are a lot of personal reasons for me to continue learning Korean, I have decided that I can and do enjoy learning German more. Probably because I was born there and have watched a lot of Bundesliga spielen.

I just hope that other Menschen/Leute are not learning Deutsch due to negativity being brought about from incidents outlined in the letter report today in The Local by the U.S. Ambassador to Germany.
09:41 September 9, 2011 by freechoice
i highly suspect the rest of the euro zone countries are partly responsible for this downward trend. Euro is not as attractive as before. so why would anybody wants to learn German?
09:44 September 9, 2011 by frankiep
--¦quot;Language classes cost money,¦quot; said Matthias Makowski, manager of the language training department at the Goethe Institute,--

Add to the reasons already mentioned (only a handful of mostly small countries speak German, long time to become proficient, work permit issues in German speaking countries, etc.) the cost is also a factor. Especially when you consider that the Goethe Institute is considered to be the best German language school and leading advocate of the German language yet charge outrageous fees for even the most basic beginners courses. Seriously, with so many other more accessible and more widely spoken languages in the world, why would Goethe charge course fees that are a nonstarter for the vast majority of people if their "mission" is to promote the German language and culture as they claim?
10:15 September 9, 2011 by tueken
Spanish sounds better then German.
10:40 September 9, 2011 by storymann
The High School I attended offered French, German, Spanish and Latin for foreign languages.

Most of us stayed away from German only because it was perceived as more difficult to learn than Spanish or French, also Spanish and French were spoken more than German in my region.

There is a myth that German lost by one vote in becoming the official language of the USA,that never happened.
15:53 September 9, 2011 by frankiep
@storyman

thanks for bringing that up about the notion that German was almost somehow the official language of the USA. IIRC there was such a vote, but it was for some remote town or county somewhere in Pennsylvania and certainly not the whole country. And secondly, the USA of course has no official language to begin with.
00:17 September 10, 2011 by lingosteve
Language learning need not cost much money. There are many resources on the web like buusu, LingQ and Livemocha to name but a few.
15:42 September 11, 2011 by Charles Dietz
German is alive and well in the Cincinnati Ohio area of the USA. With 51% of the people claiming German heritage in the Cincinnati area, the German language is strong. It is taught in numerous schools in the area along with the Tri-State German American School whos teachers volunteer every Saturday for 2 hours for 9 months of the year to teach those who don't have German available in their schools. 180 plus folks ranging from kindergarden to adults attend this school weekly including numerous adults and their children.
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