More and more German pupils are learning Chinese, hoping to improve their chances on the highly-competitive job market by learning the language of this emerging superpower. A hundred German schools now offer Chinese. Ana Lehmann visited one of them:
As China booms, young Germans are learning the language to profit from the new market
"Wo ciao Johannes Scholten. Wo she shi xan yü." Johannes Scholten has been learning Chinese at his school in Bonn for two years now -- grammar, pronunciation and also how to write.
Johannes and his 29 classmates have been able to take advantage of a cultural agreement reached between North Rhine Westphalia and the Chinese province of Sichuan six years ago. An exchange was set up between a school in Bonn and one in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province.
The Bonn school's headmaster Jürgen Nimptsch explained how it started off as an orchestra exchange but then became a language one: "We were learning more and more about China and the growing importance of the country, its economic power, as well as its cultural attractions. So we decided to put language on the programme."
Since Chinese was put on the curriculum three years ago, the number of pupils has doubled every year, the headmaster added. These figures reflect a nation-wide trend. A hundred German high schools currently offer Chinese as second or third language, twice as many as seven years ago.
Johannes and his classmates hope that their knowledge of the language, which is considered "exotic" in the West, will offer them an advantage in future job interviews.
18-year-old Boris Duric has already impressed potential employers: "I thought it would be promising for the future. Because of globalisation, this language might help in a future career, I thought. In several job interviews, I was looked at with surprise: 'Oh, you're learning Chinese. We've never had anyone here studying something like that' they said. That was interesting to hear."
Not an easy language
But it's not easy for Germans to learn this language, said Chinese teacher Huang Weiwei. Intonation, in particular, poses a problem for most pupils. A word, which is mispronounced or wrongly stressed, might produced the wrong effect, she explained.
"I have to repeat the words in a loud voice and they have to repeat. There is this famous example -- the word 'ma', pronounced on four different sound levels, has four different meanings: ma -- ma -- ma -- ma. Ma can mean 'mother', 'hemp', 'horse' or 'scolding'."
The teacher explained that pupils can generally make conversation and understand easy texts after two or three years.
No official path of study
Huang Weiwei, who also teaches history and politics and wants to sensitise pupils to cultural differences, is a sinologist who studied in Germany. The Bonn high school knows it is lucky to have her.
Most German schools find it difficult to find qualified Chinese teachers, as there is no official path of study for Germans wanting to teach Chinese. Chinese teachers tend to be either German sinologists or Chinese naturals, but at the moment few of them are actually qualified teachers.
Educational experts hope this will change as Chinese in Germany continues to boom.