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Culture

L'Amour Pour L'Allemand?

A new ad campaign in Paris is aimed at getting more French kids to learn German. With German language waning in France, politicians in Berlin and Paris fear it could hinder tighter relations.

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"Marie is leaning German," and Volker likes what he's hearing.

This week, hundreds of posters have been plastered in Paris’ Metro. They feature teens like "Pierre and Tanja" – Franco-German couples who are sharing their lives and languages. The campaign uses good ol’ fashion l’amour in an effort to lure kids to the language.

"Pierre is learning German," reads one sign. Tanja "immediately fell for his charming French accent and he kept it on purpose. Since then, he has returned to France, but he hasn’t ceased corresponding with her – in German." The smitten couple are part of the Goethe Institute and the German foreign ministry’s "We’ll tackle everything together" language campaign, which is aimed at killing old stereotypes about the German language being crusty and outmoded.

"Our goal is to convince more French school children to learn German," Goethe Institute President Utta Limbach said at the unveiling of the campaign in Paris. "The Goethe Institute wants to make German desirable to French youth because that’s the only way we can build a real partnership."

The agency behind the campaign, Ailleurs Exactement, sought to create a campaign that reflected "new emotion" in the oft-quoted German-French friendship, said Cécile Coutheillas, who created the charm offensive.

On Wednesday, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and French President Jacques Chirac said they wanted "more young French to learn German in school and more young Germans to learn French." And on Thursday’s "Franco-German Day," the two called for schools to take the opportunity to "deepen the friendship through language." Oddly enough, Chirac and Schröder have no common language themselves. The leaders’ deep relationship has been sown through the work of translators. But they’d like to see that change, and Chirac even said this week he’d like his grandson to learn German.

Thursday marks the anniversary postwar treaty signed by Germany and France on Jan. 22, 1963, which put the two countries on the path to reconciliation after World War II.

Waning interest in German

Strong as the political ties between Berlin and Paris may be these days, the cultural and language motor of Europe could use some time in the shop.

Although interest in the French language in Germany remains stable, pupils in it’s neighbor to the West have been rapidly losing interest in German. The French Embassy in Berlin estimates that during the past year, the number of Germans learning French remained steady, with close to 17 percent of students learning to parlez francais. But France has experienced a dramatic decrease in the number of students that want to speak Deutsch. Since the 1990s, the figure has sunk by more than 50 percent to only 15 percent of students.

Schröder and Chirac hope to change all that. Germany and France have a stated goal of brining up the number of French and Germans who speak each other’s language to 50 percent in the next 10 years.

"Language is the most-important door to understanding a partner, it’s culture and it’s style of work and living," the leaders wrote in a statement.