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German as a foreign language is booming in emerging countries like India or China. In Europe, it remains particularly attractive in Poland, but is imperiled in France. Find out where people are learning German and why.
"Sharing our language is an important part of intercultural understanding," says Maria Böhmer, Germany's deputy foreign minister. This should matter even more in times of crisis and conflict.
Disconcertingly, France is now discussing the abolition of its French-German "bi-langues" classes, established about 10 years ago to allow young students to start learning German at the age of 11. In 2003, on the 40th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty, the promotion of languages of both partner countries was declared to be a central element of their cultural collaboration.
Now, France's education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem's main argument against these bilingual classes is that they are detrimental to children from socially-disadvantaged backgrounds, providing an elitist advantage to students from the educated middle class only.
Around 60 French parliamentarians have launched a campaign against the plans of their government. Teachers are up in arms. German politicians, even from the highest levels of government, are also intervening against the project.
German, the exotic subject?
While the status of German classes in France is endangered, the language is gaining popularity in other parts of the world. The number of German learners particularly increased in emerging countries like China, Indonesia and Brazil, with a growth between 24 and 75 percent since 2010. "The middle class is growing in these countries, and they are investing in education," explains Johannes Ebert, secretary general for the Goethe-Institut.
In collaboration with the Federal Foreign Office, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Central Agency for German Schools Abroad (ZfA), the Goethe-Institut publishes the study "German as a Foreign Language Around the World" every five years.
German for better job opportunities
"In the current globalized labor market, more and more young people see learning German as an opportunity to study or work in Germany," says Johannes Ebert.
In order to further attract highly skilled foreign workers to Germany, more people need to gain access to German as a foreign language. 25 new German schools were established abroad since 2008. "It's a way to create new partnerships," says Maria Böhmer, adding: "German language classes are an integral part of Germany's foreign policy." German as a foreign language is primarily learnt in high school: This is where 87 percent of all classes take place.
India offers a striking example: In 2010, only 18,550 schoolchildren were learning German. Four years later, that number rose to 107,000. The ambitious goal is to establish 1,000 new schools offering German as a foreign language throughout the country. Negotiations with India's government are already underway.
Around the world, 15.4 million people are learning German as a foreign language. The downward trend observed in the past years has now stopped.
In the Russian Federation, the number of people learning German has slightly decreased. Yet Johannes Ebert says this drop is not caused by political tensions: The overall population decline has led to school mergers. More emphasis is put on science as well.
Egyptians want to learn German
The political unrest in Egypt has led to a soar in the demand for German classes. Disappointed by failed political reforms, many young people want to leave their country.
Cultural proximity and strong economic ties lead many Europeans to learn German. Europe is home to the largest proportion of people learning German in the world: 9.3 million people do. Poland leads the pack with over 2 million German-language students. Hopefully, the 1 million people learning German in France will keep up with their lessons.