When you’re choosing what subjects to do at option time, I suggest you might consider the following questions to ask your teachers of those subjects; recognise that they will, of course, be enthusiasts for their own subject!
- Why might it be useful in the future? Where might it fit in with my other subjects? (I’ll come to that shortly – that’s our main topic)
- What’s in the course? What challenges might I face? Does the first year just lull me into a false sense of security, because the hard bits come later? With German, the answer is no – because once you have the basics, the rest just builds on that. It doesn’t get harder. (I’ve taught French and English as FL too – I can assure you German is much the easiest)
- What are my chances of success? When you learn one FL, you also learn how to learn another – certainly with European languages. So you make quicker progress on FL2. At university, some people take up a language not offered at GCSE or A Level; by the end of the course, they’ll have caught up.
Common misconceptions about German
- It’s hard
Pronunciation and spelling – straight off the page. German monolingual dictionaries only provide phonetic spellings for foreign or unusual words.
Grammar – as we’ve seen already, by the end of the first year you’ve already covered the basics – the two word-order rules, the cases, and the verbs and main tenses (present – which also covers the future – and perfect). If you want difficult, try French or Spanish tenses (15 each as opposed to German’s 9). Or the subjunctive, which can be learned in a couple of hours in German, but takes most of the A Level course in French and Spanish.
- It’s ugly
This is pure World War 1 propaganda. Before 1914, German was considered the language of culture, poetry and music. But how did you get Brits to fight against men with whom they felt closely linked, especially through the royal family and travel (Germany was UK’s number one tourist destination)? You have to make them believe the enemy are the sort of barbarians who, at best, have no sense of humour, and at worst murder babies and grunt in harsh, guttural tones. Hitler’s Austrian accent didn’t help, nor did war films! But if you learn English from the way military orders are shouted in films, you’d have the same impression of our own language.
People who actually speak German know that it’s as capable of great beauty as any other. Some of you will say, no, but it is ugly. Consider this: only two sounds in German are pronounced differently to English: ch (at the back of the mouth, not in the throat), and ü. If several German-speakers are chatting just out of earshot, I won’t be able to tell whether they’re speaking English or German.
German pronounced at the front of the mouth – much more so than French.
- It’s not very useful, or at least, not as useful as, say, French or Spanish.
On the subject of Spanish…
The UK is the only country in Europe which considers Spanish an important foreign language to learn. Elsewhere, German is either more important than English or follows hard on its heels. European FL skills: 49% Eng, 35% Gm, 26% Fr, just 15% Sp.
Brits copy America in all sorts of ways, not least through travel and TV. Most recent: Hallowe’en and now Black Friday (and 1 in 6 in the UK now celebrate Thanksgiving!). Likewise, because Spanish is important to the USA, for obvious reasons, we tend to assume that the same applies here. But we do little trade with Spain or S America. Fruit & veg, Zara and Santander – that’s about it. Spain is too small to be in the G20 group of top economies, let alone the G7
What are the economic facts?
Germany is UK’s main trading partner after the USA. By comparison, very little with Spain or Sp-speaking countries. How many of your parents drive Audi/BMW/VW/SEAT/Porsche/ or have Bosch/Siemens/Neff/ AEG/Miele kitchens and equipment etc?
Some well-known German companies….
Adidas (sports) – Aldi (supermarkets) – Bahlsen (biscuits) – Bayer (Aspirin) – BMW (Mini, Rolls Royce) – Benteler (parts for Vauxhall, Jaguar, etc.) – Bertelsmann (Penguin books, Dorling-Kindersley books) – Bosch (automotive and domestic appliances) – Braun (electrical) – Claas (tractors, agricultural equipment) – Commerzbank – Daimler AG (Mercedes Benz, Smart) – Deutsche Bahn (rail; Arriva, Schenker (freight) etc.) – Deutsche Bank – Deutsche Post (DHL) – E.ON (gas, electricity) – Haribo (sweets) – Lidl (supermarkets) – Lindt (chocolates) – Neff (domestic appliances) – Nivea – Porsche – Puma (sports) – RWE (Thames Water) – Siemens (domestic appliances, power generation, medical technology, rail, etc.) – Storck (Bendicks Mints) – TUI (airlines and tourism) – Volkswagen Audi Group (Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Ducati motorbikes, Lamborghini, MAN trucks, Scania trucks, Skoda, SEAT, Volkswagen)
Biggest economy in Europe and third in the world. German companies – biggest foreign investor in jobs in the UK: 2500 companies employing over 500 000 people in 2017.
E.g.: Siemens, which has been in the UK since 1850, has 18 000 UK employees in over 100 offices and factories. 40% of UK wind-power is generated by Siemens turbines.
100 million Europeans speak German. That’s about 20% of the total. By comparison, 64m speak English (12%), about the same as French. 9% speak Spanish
Three official languages of the EU: German, French, English. Meetings have to be cancelled because there aren’t enough native speakers of English to interpret.
BIS (Dept for Business, Innovation & Skills, now the Dept for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) reckoned in 2014 that UK business loses a minimum of £7 billion p.a. and maybe as much as £18 billion through lack of language skills – the most important of which is German.
Recent Foreign Office launch of various initiatives – Government desperate to recruit linguists.
- Other reasons:
Cultural – at the heart of European culture
Science – after English, the most important research language. University links…
- So, what do people do with a qualification in German?
Languages are always tools to do other things with – you have to have something to communicate
The Telegraph newspaper said recently: “Opportunities for German graduates are excellent, seemingly driven by the continuing centrality of German business and politics within the European Union. The range of analytical and communication skills graduates in this subject are able to offer also open doors. German graduates go on to specialist work as translators and interpreters, as well as putting their linguistic and analytical skills to use in the wide fields of business and finance, journalism, the law, the civil and diplomatic services, publishing, advertising, the tourism industry, teaching and academia.”
- All Germans speak excellent English
They don’t. Willy Brandt, the great German chancellor of the early 70s: ‘If I’m selling, I sell in your language; if I’m buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen’
(E.g. 1: I found this to be true in my own small business importing German wines: my ability to speak German was essential – literally, none of the vintners we bought from spoke more than a smattering of English.)
(E.g. 2: A conversation with a British senior project engineer at Siemens UK:
– “I don’t need to speak German – the managers speak such good English.”
– “Are they all German?”
– “No, some are, the rest are from all over Europe.”
– “So why are you working for them rather than they for you?”
– “Hmmm…I see what you mean!”
The answer is that most Brits simply can’t be trained across this big international company, because they don’t speak German. Without the breadth of experience, they can’t move up the company. They’re stuck.)