An international conference of German language teachers concluded with plans to make the language more attractive and to adopt a more aggressive approach to its promotion.
Teachers hope that German will become attractive to all ages
German is sexy, apparently, and should therefore be used more as an international language. That’s the conclusion of the International Association of German Teachers which just concluded its annual conference at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena on Monday.
But the task ahead will not be an easy one for those who wish to persuade native speakers and foreign students to speak more German abroad and to start being proud of the mother tongue of Luther, Goethe and Franz Beckenbauer. Chances are that it will take more than just a snappy catchphrase to overcome the barriers that prevent German from becoming a true "lingua franca" or lingua germania.
One of the main problems facing the teachers stems from German businesses which do not promote the use of their own language in other countries when their employees travel or when they set up daughter companies abroad. For students of German, the prospect of a career where the language of international business is more likely to be English is hardly the most motivating influence. For this reason teachers hope that their plan to make German more attractive will push companies to speak their own language
Adopting Lingua Franca model
So, what can be done to make German more attractive? Well, to start with, the conference concluded that the language must first be spread by those speakers already confident and proud of their German skills. To do this, the teachers have expressed a desire to follow the lingua franca model where the French language is aggressively promoted among native speakers around the world. The French are renowned for their pride in their language and their mostly unshakeable use of it at home in France and in former colonies.
Sebastian Bemile, the vice president of the International Association of German Teachers, comes from Ghana: “We’re surrounded by French speaking lands and France is very aggressive in its promotion of its language,” he said. “The German teachers try the best they can to promote the language. I love the German language. I can’t say that the Germans themselves don’t, but we would like them to be more aggressive.”
Lack of language policy
German is taught but is it promoted?
Dr. Hermann Funk, one of the 80 professors attending the conference in Jena, went a step further when he criticized the Germans themselves. “There is no German language policy. In France, language is a political issue. In Germany, it is something more or less dealt with.”
Convincing the Germans that their own language is attractive is one thing. Getting the 17 million students worldwide who spend three years learning German as their second foreign language to use it instead of English or French is another. The task looks even more daunting when even those students who learn German as their first foreign language avoid using it. This is a particular problem in eastern and central European countries where English has become the choice language after the native one.
Helena Hanuljakova from Slovakia says her job in Bratislava is made even harder by the Germans working and visiting there who insist on conversing with the locals in English. This is despite the fact that German is the first foreign language in her country. “We’ve already learned, and not just in Slovakia but from other countries, that this de-motivates our students. They just don’t use the language.”
International decrease in popularity
The decrease in popularity of German learning is also a problem elsewhere in the world. Levels are dropping in Britain, France, Denmark and the United States -- where German learning has dropped 11 percent in the last year --, although there have been increases in interest in Japan, Greece, Finland and Mexico.
Will they be motivated to use their German?
“The decrease (in German learning) is mostly in western Europe, especially France and Britain,” said Hans Barkowski, a professor for Foreign German Studies in Jena. “Countries where just one language is traditionally learned are a particular concern for us.”
Personal and virtual contact
To tackle the international problem, the teachers hope that German tourists will carry the language with them on their travels and not be afraid to use it in personal contact with other holiday-makers. They also believe that making virtual contact through a larger Internet presence with more German language sites and services would help spread the word. German is, after all, the second most frequent Internet language after English, despite being only the fourth most spoken among the Web's surfers.
Other plans are more adventurous and creative. The German teachers are planning a German Olympiad in Denmark to promote the language through sports and are hoping to export German folk music, or Schlager, in an attempt to replicate the interest the Buena Vista Social Club generated in Cuba. As was mentioned previously, there may be hard times ahead.