• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

German is world's fourth most popular language

The Local · 15 Apr 2015, 11:18

Published: 15 Apr 2015 11:18 GMT+02:00

Professor Ammon found that German is only ranked tenth globally in terms of native speakers, of which there are around 104 million, but is ranked fourth in terms of non-native speakers who have learnt the language.

The only larger languages in terms of learners are English, French and Mandarin, he told Deutsch Welle.

SEE ALSO: More English words sneak into French.

"People get the impression that when you learn German, you are gaining access to countries that are flourishing economically, which in turn brings better career opportunities as well as education and training." he said

"The association between German and economic prosperity is nothing new and dates back to German unification in 1871," he later told The Local.

But Germany's recent role in the Eurozone crisis has also contributed to German's attractiveness.

Viola Noll, a spokesperson for Goethe Institute, said that the Eurozone crisis had led to a boom in southern Europeans wanting to learn German, mainly Spaniards, Italians and Greeks.

Around 14.5 million people worldwide are learning German as a foreign language, according to the latest estimates from the Goethe Institute. It is taught in schools in 144 countries around the world.

Mark Twain famously said that German was too hard to learn in one lifetime, but Professor Ammon thinks the difficulties in German are exaggerated.

"The grammatical structure in German is perhaps more difficult than other major European languages, but as soon as a language is considered useful, people forget about the difficulty," he said.

Currently more people are learning German than Spanish, despite the enormous number of Spanish native speakers around the world. Professor Ammon can see this continuing in the future:

"German will never challenge English, which is the truly international language, but prosperity can continue to make a difference, particularly if Spain continues to struggle economically" he said.

What people associate with German

Another element of Professor Ammon's study is the associations that non-German speakers make with the language.

For example, businesses in non-German speaking countries sometimes use German in branding or marketing to seem more official, professional, or successful.

"Businesses do it because German is associated with higher quality" he said in an interview in Welt

Examples of this would be the use of German in the Audi slogan "Vorsprung durch Technik" (Advancement through technology) in adverts around the world to convey the quality of German engineering - although the notoriously language-shy Americans have to make do with "Truth in Engineering".

"Whereas English stands for internationalism, other languages have other special qualities that fit to the stereotype associated with the language speaking community.

"In the case of German, these are hard work, order, and coziness" he said.

GALLERY: Eight celebrities you didn't know spoke German

"It is clear that people who have learnt a foreign language more often than not have a positive attitude towards that country. For international relations that is really important" he added.

But most people generally aren't aware of how popular their language is and of the advantages this brings, such as easier global communication which is better for international business, he told The Local.

Head of the culture department of the foreign office in the 1980s, Bethold C. Witte, once said: "Wer Deutsch spricht, kauft auch Deutsch" (Whoever speaks German will also buy German).

A bright future?

Despite German's healthy standing, Professor Ammon still believes that more can be done.

He would like to see more use of German in public, particularly on the European political scene where English and French dominate, as well as grants for foreign students to learn German, but acknowledged that funding will always be an issue.

When asked if German was held back by the fact that Germans tend to have a good level of English, Professor Ammon suggested that his countrymen are prouder of their ability to speak foreign languages than of their own language.

He put this down to Germany's "broken national identity", which means they aren’t as proud of their language as other nations such as the French.

Story continues below…

GALLERY: Top 10 reasons to learn German

He gave the example of a group of English children who visited a school in the Rhineland.

They took part in the exchange to improve their German, but to the German head teacher's delight, the two groups communicated with each other in English.

He highlighted this as an area where Germans could actually promote their mother tongue. Instead of showing off their own language skills, they should realise when others want to learn German and embrace it.

He also added that: "Although Germans generally speak English well, they could do better in this regard, like the Dutch or the Scandinavians."

Germany is ranked as the tenth best country in the world for English proficiency, which means it comes above other major European nations like France, Spain and Italy, but still lags behind many northern European countries. 

By Matty Edwards

 

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
File photo: DPA

When a man swimming naked in a Bavarian lake felt a strange pain in his nether regions, he looked up to see a fisherman on the shore. "Don’t pull!" he shouted.

Study finds rival Rhineland beers 'actually taste the same'
Left: Altbier. Right: Kölsch. Or can you even tell? Photos: DPA.

Cologne and Düsseldorf have a long established rivalry, not least over who has the better home brew. So the results of a new study might be more than they can swallow.

Eastern Europe pushes Germany for joint EU army
Angela Merkel (l), Beata Szydlo and Victor Orban. Photo: DPA

Eastern EU countries on Friday pushed for the bloc to create a joint army as they met with Germany for talks on sketching Europe's post-Brexit future.

Merkel’s party mate wants to get rid of all Karl Marx streets
Karl Marx and one of the roadways in Berlin named for him. Photos: Wikimedia Commons, Nicor

Hundreds of streets are named after the founder of communism, but this conservative politician wants to give Marx the boot.

State elections
6 reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
Photo: DPA

With state elections around the corner, The Local looks at the poor side of Germany's "poor but sexy" capital city.

Upstarts RB Leipzig plan to go right to top of Bundesliga
RB Leipzig players celebrate scoring against Dynamo Dresden. Photo: DPA

RB Leipzig make their Bundesliga debut on Sunday, but the East German outfit, sponsored by energy drinks manufacturer Red Bull, are already far from popular in Germany's top-flight.

Poland criticizes Germany’s 'self-serving' foreign policy
Witold Waszczykowski. Photo: DPA

The Polish foreign minister has said that Germany all too often follows its own interests at the expense of its partners, as Chancellor Angela Merkel prepares to visit Warsaw.

Vast majority of Germans in favour of burqa ban: poll
Women wearing niqab veils in Saudi Arabia. Photo: DPA.

A survey found that the vast majority of respondents were in favour of Germany passing a ban on the full-body veil sometimes worn by Muslim women.

Czech police detain driver for harassing Merkel's motorcade
Angela Merkel. File photo: DPA

Czech police arrested a man on Thursday for attempting to drive into the motorcade of visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Prague, they said.

Teacher convicted for holding kids back after class
Photo: DPA

A music teacher from North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) has been found guilty of "holding people against their will" after he made some naughty stay kids back after class.

Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Gallery
Germany's 17 Olympic gold medals in pictures
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Culture
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Rhineland
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Culture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Lifestyle
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
14 facts you never knew about the Brandenburg Gate
Society
Ten times Germans proved they really, really love beer
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Lifestyle
What's on in Germany: events for August 2016
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
Six things you need to know when moving to Germany
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
International
German scientists prove birds can sleep while flying
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Technology
London v. Berlin: Which is better for startups?
Lifestyle
13 mortifying mistakes German learners always make
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Travel
Enter if you dare: Berlin's best abandoned haunts
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Lifestyle
10 rookie errors all Brits make when they arrive in Germany
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Travel
Six soothing day trips to escape the bustle of Berlin
International
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
Features
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Features
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
8,653
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd