Why we must all learn German

I can\’t say I\’m convinced myself:

When I got my own A at A-level German in 1986, West Berlin was regarded as a dopey hangout for draft-dodging hippies. Unless you were planning a Nick Clegg-style Eurocrat career, you didn\’t need it. But now German is the language of the nation that supports the British economy and keeps the eurozone alive, bailing out places we like to go on holiday to, such as struggling Spain and Greece.

Look, we\’re quite happy for them to pay for everything but why on earth would we actually want to talk to them?

10 thoughts on “Why we must all learn German”

  1. …supports the British economy….

    How exactly? We are also net contributors to the Great European Utopia

    …keeps the eurozone alive…

    Good Thing / Bad Thing?????

    …bailing out places we like to go on holiday to…

    Places that would be a lot cheaper if they left the Eurozone

    There are lots of better reasons to learn German.

  2. The law of comparative advantage states that Brits shouldn’t learn foreign languages. Foreigners learn English from an early age, they pick it up from Hollywood films and un-dubbed TV shows, from music, and from the internet. They have a comparative advantage in multilingualism. Since British schoolkids don’t have that advantage, they’d be better off spending that school time improving other skills & knowledge.

  3. Learn German. That’s quite a commitment when life is so short. Arguably Spanish is more useful, but then many of my friends are Dutch. And learning French would be fun, if only to argue à la française when in Paris. Speaking an Asian language is probably the way to go. Some Russian would be handy, a smattering of Japanese maybe? I could go on but the quandary is obvious. I spent years in Germany and was continually addressed in Turkish; when a Texas resident everyone spoke to me in Spanish. My Egyptian acquaintances have always assumed I am Italian, and my Italian friends that I’m Egyptian. In Scandinavia everyone speaks faultless English so it isn’t a problem. However, in Buenos Aires I’m taken for a Brazilian and they affect a lingua franca. And let’s not get started on the Welsh, or those Gaelic speaking drinking acquaintances. Whilst not speaking German or Serbo-Croat necessarily harmed my business activities, the world is changing. Accordingly my niece is studying Mandarin at Uni.

  4. Having learnt rudimentary German at school in the mid 1980’s, I never visited until I ended up working there during 2009 – 2012.

    My general experience was that I would say something in German, they would do the German equivelent of “Huh?”, I would repeat or rephrase my question / statement and they would then begin talking to me in pretty much flawless and accent-less English.

    I rapidly came to the conclusion that learning German for a natural born Englishman with our usual poor linguistic opportunities was an esoteric pursuit only taken up by those who had too much time on their hands.

    Primarily I was used as a sounding board to correct what the Germans thought was their poor English – by and large they were at least as good as me and had a better understanding of grammar, syntax and semantics.

    For people with a family life and a job of work outside of linguistics there is no fundamental point in learning German unless you want to live their permanently.

  5. One of the advantages of the UK being a vibrant multiracial country is that a good 10% or so of the population already speak foreign languages either as their first language or as a language they use at home.

    Of course Anglo-Saxon Brits could spend years learning to speak bad Mandarin (when they could be learning computer programming or architecture) but why bother when there are already tens of thousands of Brits who already speak fluent Manadarin.

    Surely its easier to train a British Chinese person to be a salesman for Unilever than it is to teach a Unilever salesman to speak Mandarin.

  6. “For people with a family life and a job of work outside of linguistics there is no fundamental point in learning German unless you want to live their permanently.”

    This broadly what I concluded when living in Vienna for a couple of years (even if I knew it was ‘there’ and not ‘their’ 😉 ).

    However, it would have been good to have been able to read a little of Goethe and understand Liede without recourse to programme notes.

  7. My wife is fluent in German, and finds it of little use unless we’re there on holiday, and even then it is not essential. Russian is far more useful.

  8. I used to be able to speak French and read German. They’ve dwindled away from underuse.

    On the other hand my classical Latin lets me read medieval Latin inscriptions in Old Churches. Just the ticket.

  9. I speak fluent French, quite good German, a lot of Dutch, not bad Spanish, quite a bit of Italian, used to know quite a lot of Japanese and studied Greek and Latin at school.

    The only time I use them is (a) on holidasy or (b) in business, listening in to other people’s converstaiions when they don’t know I understand what they are saying.

  10. It’s useful if you’re living in Switzerland. Sure, Swiss German is pretty different,but they mostly know the standard version.

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