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Foreign students 'should learn German'

The Local · 3 May 2012, 14:27

Published: 03 May 2012 14:27 GMT+02:00

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Some science courses are taught only in English, which Horst Hippler said should be rethought, suggesting that a mix would enrich the learning experience for students.

In an interview to mark the start of his role as head of the German Rector’s Conference (HRK) – the body representing hundreds of higher education institutions – Hippler spoke to Die Welt daily newspaper about the importance of maintaining the German language in education.

Hippler, who is president of Karlsruhe Institute for Technology, said universities should be dissuaded from teaching courses entirely in English, and that the risk of this contributing to the decline of German was something institutions “should be aware of.”

He admitted that there were many international students who come to Germany and want to stay, but many take courses taught entirely in English, thus learning little German.

“A German language qualification should, sooner or later, be required from everyone,” Hippler told the paper.

Hippler said that although “publishing scientific work in English makes sense,” abandoning German completely is a mistake.

This not only creates a false idea of what is “international”, but also deprives lecturers of being able to bring a depth to their classes in a way only someone’s mother tongue allows. This “really is a problem,” he added.

Elsewhere in the interview, Hippler touched on his intention to reopen the debate on university fees in Germany. He believes that without reassessing how higher education is funded, the system “could collapse.”

With the student population expanding rapidly, a squeeze in funding is to be expected, he said, and students should expect to carry some of the burden. “We are not talking about horrendously high fees, but about students contributing,” he said.

Story continues below…

Last month new figures showed that although 80 percent of foreign students who complete courses in Germany would like to stay, only about a quarter do, with lack of bureaucratic help in English cited as one of the problems they face.

The Local/jcw

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

16:36 May 3, 2012 by lucksi
Yes, learning something comlicated should be done in something other than your mother tongue. Why not make it a rule that you should only take notes by writing in kanji?

Just let German die already. It is a needlessly complicated, horrid sounding language. And I'm saying that as a German.
16:53 May 3, 2012 by hallopeople
ja impostor....
16:56 May 3, 2012 by Peepopaapo
@ lucksi: Well, I disagree with your opinion. Every language, especially German, should be kept alive. People knowing Goethe, Kafka, Brecht and other fabulous German authors only in English would be a cultural catastrophy.
17:23 May 3, 2012 by mobaisch
I love and learned german even while my education program i came for, is officially and completely in English. In university I never use German, In the street I never use English.

I learned it and was very useful. But you should not force international students who come for an international program.

Do not call it "International Program in English" then! and stop advertising for it all over the world this way if you do not want it this way! .. be fair!
17:32 May 3, 2012 by MaKo
Well, of course they should learn some German! Living in a country without speaking the language at all is an obnoxious thing to do. The student's quality of life outside of university will be much improved by the ability to navigate daily life in German. Not all the world's cashiers speak English, and being glared at or reprimanded in a language you can't understand or respond in just isn't very much fun. Perhaps the universities offering programs in English should also offer some low level courses for the basics of the German language. University people are smart; they'll be able to manage it. An A2 language requirement doesn't seem unreasonable, either.
18:08 May 3, 2012 by mitanni
Germany needs to come to terms with fact that the German language is little more than a vernacular these days, not much different from the status of Dutch or Swedish, and treat it as such. We should be grateful that the language of science, culture, and commerce, namely English, is at least another Germanic language, which makes our life easier.

So, by all means require immigrants to learn German, and require all Germans to become fluent in English and use it consistently when it comes to education, research, and business.
19:54 May 3, 2012 by nomadams
This is amusing. You see, when I arrived in Germany the first email I sent was to the language department at the University of Stuttgart asking about German language classes. I didn't receive a response. So then I tried the local adult college and was told the class was only for people going through the integration program. Could I qualify for the integration program? Nope. Apparently speaking English means you're on your own when it comes to integration. I eventually gave up and now I live in London. Oddly, hardly anyone speaks English here, either. Go figure.
20:41 May 3, 2012 by ovalle3.14
I think it's a good idea but learning enough German to be able to take a university course in the language is a matter of years. This is a two-way street and I have to agree with @mitanni, Germans should also learn something else than German.
21:04 May 3, 2012 by belladons
I agree with mitanni, but I also agree with the story.
21:36 May 3, 2012 by mitanni
Looking at Hippler's original comments, I think this turns out to be blown out of proportion. Hippler suggested using German in classes mainly because he thought that German professors could make classes more engaging if they could teach in their native language. He probably has a point there, but ultimately, German academics need to be able to engage an audience in English anyway, so the solution is not to change German graduate programs, but to improve the ability of German academics to speak English.

I don't understand this hand-wringing anyway. Having separate literary languages and vernaculars has been the norm throughout human history and is the norm around the world. Any reasonably educated person should have no problems being fluent in two or three languages.
21:52 May 3, 2012 by gorongoza
Herr Hipler why offer those science subjects in a foreign language (English) in the first place? When foreign students with no German Language enroll for the courses you start to complain. I found it utterly absurd for a person in your position screaming the way you do.

You sounding like you are not so sure of your mother language - Deutsch - wether to tell people that with German languge you can even be a better scientist. Yes one can be a better scientist with German language:that is how I see it after exposure to the German language. May be you are suffering from a complex - only known to yourself when it comes to your mother language.

You do not need to sound dictating: every fish that swims in German pool will eventually and automatically learn the language.

Herr Hipler will do the same when he goes to a foreign land: he will start off or rather continue to speak in Deutsch for the first few months but with time he will be heard talking in the local language. No big deal really unless Herr Hipler has something else troubling him at the back of his mind.
22:31 May 3, 2012 by Sayer
Carlos Ghosn, Chairman of Nissan-Renault: "English is the software of business. Learn it!"
23:19 May 3, 2012 by m0fugga
"Living in a country without speaking the language at all is an obnoxious thing to do." I'm inclined to support the statement. Where I live, this can be a real problem. I, for one, would never go for an extended period of time living in a foreign land without learning to be at least moderately conversational in the native language. Props to nomadams for making the attempt. If Germans decide to abandon the old language so be it, but while it remains a staple of German living, it should be learned by both it's citizens AND its long term visitors. And this should be true of ANY countries native tongue....
23:50 May 3, 2012 by ChrisRea
Germany offers this international courses at very low prices (at least compared to US and Great Britain). It is a good strategy if you want to attract intelligent minds in the country, but, as we read in a previous article http://www.thelocal.de/education/20120424-42127.html, most of the graduates leave the country because they have problems integrating (even if 80% would like to remain). If they would know a bit of German (let's say B1-B2), I am pretty sure the integration problems would be much smaller and Germany would benefit from retaining a qualified workforce.

I guess the idea of scientific courses in German is only a pretext. A regular university teaching in German requires at least C1 (so right under the level of a native). If starting from scratch, I think one would need some 2-3 years to reach this level, so there is no much time left to study in German.
00:02 May 4, 2012 by Whipmanager
@Chrisrea: I agree

I lived in Germany 14 years. It wasn't until the second time I was there that any German would let me speak or try to speak German. THey were proud of their English skills, and I must say, they had reason to be proud. I lived in a few different countries and became fluent in Spanish and German, almost in Italian, and could get by in French. I am no genius (Ask Chris Rea, he has stated so much about me many times). It is only right that a person going to a foreign country, and going to school be required to learn and communicate beyond the rudimentary words. They should be conversant if not fluent. I understand Germany wants to create an economic boom by being the training center for the world. Admirable as that is, it makes sense that there be a common bond between the school, the teacher and the student.
00:05 May 4, 2012 by Lachner
In order to be able to learn German at a highly proficient enough level (minimum C1) to comprehend complicated academic vocabulary and grammar, the international students would have to take at least 2 years of German before they begin their studies. Therefore, this proposal is completely unreasonable. I agree that international students attending German Universities should be required to learn German, but perhaps the goal should be for them to have an intermediate level of German by the time of their graduation and in order to be able to work and live in Germany. They could begin by taking a placement exam, then have them take weekly courses to advance them and before they graduate they should at least have a DSH 1 level. That would be more reasonable than having them learning Physics or Philosophy in German.
03:35 May 4, 2012 by Illogicbuster
It is incomprehensible that someone gong to a foreign country to attend college would not learn the language of that country. VERY bizarre....
06:19 May 4, 2012 by kimibocconi
well, learning a foreign language other than English is pretty good for myself, especially German. We all know Germans are not really good at English. As a matter of fact, knowing German is also essential for your career in Germany.
08:29 May 4, 2012 by siba
... if you read the article above carefully, nobody wants to force foreign students to study german in germany! it is just a suggestion. compared to france where you cannot live long without speaking french, in germany you can live quite well without german for a while. in berlin you could even live forever without german, here I can speak for some friends of mine. however, it is always helpful to speak a bit of the local language to participate in society and to get a grasp what it is really like. without access to the local discourses you will never really get to know the local context. language is cultural. and german is not so difficult as some might thing. all those native english speakers I know who studied German for a while liked it a lot and found it quite logical compared to other languages like french which is full of exceptions and irregular verbs.
08:47 May 4, 2012 by Peepopaapo
@ kimibocconi: Germans are not very good at speaking English compared to whom? The average French, the Spanish, the Italians, the Chinese. Then you have certainly never met one of those mentioned above. As whipmanager already stated, the standard of English spoken by Germans is usually quite high. Many Germans don't have much trouble learning English due to the fact that both languages are Germanic languages.
09:57 May 4, 2012 by catjones
The language comment is a red herring. The footnote regarding fee increases is the real story. The camel is about to get his nose in the tent.
10:00 May 4, 2012 by cpworld
I work for the US Military in Germany and have integrated into life here pretty well. I have been learning German in the local VHS and try to converse exclusively in German with folks in my village and elsewhere. German is a very difficult language for me to learn but I am getting there. After three years I feel I understand about 50% when watching TV or listening to the radio. I would be a lot further along if I could immerse more into German life but I speak English all day every day at work. In any case I agree that foreigners living in Germany should learn the German language, at least the basics.
15:06 May 4, 2012 by YellowChicken
Please do something about the Grammar. As a student learning German I almost threw my German book out the window when I found out about adjective endings. Complaints aside, German is a nice strong language and I have found that studying is actually improving my native English. Living in the Studentwohnheim I have found at least 10 percent of the foreign students living here only know a word or two of German. It makes me sad that they haven't tried to at least learn a bit more.
19:56 May 4, 2012 by Englishted

Sorry to say but the Dutch are the best in Europe at English as a second language better than some English,Scots,Welsh and Irish in some cases.
20:44 May 4, 2012 by siba
... the Dutch and the Scandinavians are good in English because they do not dub English movies and series. That is because these countries are quite small. That is why the Dutch speak American English and not British English. In all larger countries like France, Spain or Germany (together with Austria and Switzerland) all English movies are dubbed...

In addtion, in my experience some Dutch are not really fond of their language. I met Dutch people who said they find it harsh and not nice. That is why they prefer to speak English or German.
21:24 May 4, 2012 by Peepopaapo
@ Englishted: I did not claim anything else and I fully agree with you. :-) They are usually also very good at speaking German. But as you can see from my comment above I specifically refered to the average Spanish, French, Italian or Chinese people. Best regards.
07:36 May 5, 2012 by Dr Allison
I'm a USA chemist doing my postdoc work out here at a eastern German university. I recall one of my professors going on a long rant in an upper level Biochemistry course about how English is "the language of science", and all scientists must learn English. He was yelling at some poor Chinese girl for talking in Chinese during his lecture; I felt really bad for her.

But, after 3 years talking with many of the German/International professors of science out here, I start to see what he meant. All the older professors get very confused by this line the Editors of international science journals say about their submissions: "Needs to be reviewed for Native English". I have sympathy for them, I guess the older people out here learned Russian as a second language when they were in school.

I think anyone living in a foreign country should at least try to learn the language; but German science professors need to remember that, unfortunately, most of science research is published in English (although I suspect the Chinese are catching up).
18:14 May 7, 2012 by justinoliver
to force anyone to communicate in a particular language is to strip away one of their basic freedoms. residents and long term visitors should try to learn the language for many reasons, but forcing them is disgusting.

if foreign students are required to learn german when it is not relevant to their field of study, perhaps german citizens should regularly undergo testing to ensure that they are using the language correctly.
15:56 May 10, 2012 by Tezcumpapa
I don't quite understand why a person living in another country wouldn't want to learn the language...if I understand correctly, the Swiss have no problem knowing three languages. However, I do understand why it would be advantageous to teach certain courses in English. Also, what percentage of "Doctoral" students are foreign? What percentage of the student body is foreign, and do they pay a higher fee for schooling? If so, it may not be wise to discourage their attendance. I suspect that altering the courses from English to German may have that effect.
07:29 May 12, 2012 by soros
I think professionals of all kinds who are mono-lingual are at a great disadvantage these days, and this applies to foreign students who take courses in English while in Germany. I speak four languages out of choice and it has opened worlds to me which would otherwise have remained closed.

Young people, and this includes most university students, would be smart to take any opportunity to learn a second or even a third language. It's not just about job opportunities, but the ability to think and express yourself in more complex terms.

I once met a professor who spoke ten (related) languages and I am still green with envy.
18:45 May 14, 2012 by V28
I am an Indian and I must say that I am fascinated by German. I do not see any harm in learning a new language. \m/
15:01 May 23, 2012 by freads
Some Germans are sure proud about their language, their heritage and their culture, it's totally agreeable but when it comes to internationalize your country you should not look at all the above and feel the necessity to force it upon foreign students, i come from India and i feel English is the most important language in global term, i think India is in it's current fast growing position just because many know how to communicate in English and the whole world seems to be anglophone just because Indians speak foreign language like English fluently and this has made great opportunities open as American companies started seeing the business profits they can make by outsourcing jobs to India. I'm coming to Germany to study but certainly i will work only in an Anglophone country because it is too easy to speak in English rather than feel the everyday brunt of try to converse in German.
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