Stars sticking their German flag-colored tongues out in advertisements? These famous first- and second-generation immigrants are showing Germany and its newcomers what you can be achieve if you speak the language well.
Arthur Abraham speaks German and wants others to as well
A boxer, a rapper, a government minister. They're all sticking their tongues out at you, the reader. Even more surprising, their tongues are colored black, red and gold, just like the German flag.
Ayguel Oezkan is a minister in the Lower Saxony government
The integration debate continues in Germany, but there's one group that's taking a more positive spin. The German Foundation for Integration has kicked off the second round of an advertising campaign to get immigrants to learn German.
The ads feature famous first- or second- generation immigrants sticking out their German flag-colored tongues. There's a soccer star, rappers, boxers and the first Muslim female state government cabinet minister.
The slogan reads, "raus mit der Sprache, rein ins Leben," which roughly translates to "speak the language, live the life."
A message of opportunity
"Our message is quite clear," Ferry Pausch, director of the foundation told Deutsche Welle. "If you speak German, and you speak it well, then all possibilities are open to you."
Pausch said the celebrities in the advertising campaign were success stories that can serve as role models to young people living in Germany.
Boehmer says the ads show other immigrants what's possible if they speak German well
Maria Boehmer, Germany's integration commissioner, agrees.
"If you don't speak German fluently you can only be an onlooker in this country," she told reporters at a press conference for the ad campaign in Berlin on Wednesday. "Other people, who have learned German well, have seen that you can get somewhere, get ahead professionally, have a career and be a role model for others."
"That's why we wanted to call on people to learn German so they can belong to this country and can take advantage of all the opportunities this country has to offer."
The foundation was established in 2008 by the Association of German Magazine Publishers and newspapers and magazines place the ads for free. The daily Bild Zeitung, the newspaper with the highest circulation in Germany, and Hurriyet, one of the most popular Turkish-language newspapers in Germany, have already agreed to run the ads. The slogan has been translated into Turkish, Polish and Italian and an accompanying website helps immigrants find a German language school in the town where they live.
And a message of success
But the ads aren't just targeted at those with immigrant backgrounds, according to Pausch. The foundation also hopes to send a message to the general population. They want people to know that "it doesn't matter how someone looks, that these are all fellow citizens," he said, "that they're not foreigners, this is nothing special, this is everyday stuff, these are all fellow citizens that have the same right as everyone else to speak German fantastically well."
Pausch said good comments and bad comments had come out of the integration debate in Germany, but that their comment was about focusing on the positive.
"This is less about pointing a finger and much more about highlighting opportunities," he said.
Perhaps the German language could also use some promotion. According to Katja Cantone, a linguist and a professor of German as a second language at the University of Duisberg-Essen, it could.
"It does not have a bad reputation," she said, "but too many people believe they have to decide between their first language and Germany. But this is not true."
Achieving their goals with German
How good is good enough? Turkish President Abdullah Gul told one newspaper that Turkish people living in Germany needed to learn to speak German without an accent, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a group of young conservatives that those who did not learn German immediately upon arrival were not welcome.
Pausch says he hopes to have more athletes like Jerome Boateng in the next round of ads
Cantone has little patience for these kind of remarks. "As a linguist, I cannot accept certain conditions made by politicians who do not know anything about language acquisition," she said.
Not all of the celebrities in the campaign speak perfect, accent-free German, Pausch said. "But all of them have learned German well enough so that they could achieve their goals."
There can be barriers for immigrants wanting to learn German, said Boris Zaffarana, spokesman from the German Association of Adult Education Centers. He said most immigrants learning German come to one of these centers, called a Volkshochschule in German.
"Of course, often people don't sign up for a German course, for family reasons, for a variety of reasons," he said. "But many eventually do find their way to the Volkshochschule and then they learn German."
Author: Holly Fox
Editor: Chuck Penfold