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Talk your way out of recession

Statistics point to an increase in interest in learning German, now that the latter is showing its economic and political muscle in Europe.

This week the newspaper Tagesspiegel carried an article reporting that the Goethe Institute’s language classes are booming, with increases of 35 percent in Spain, 20 percent in Portugal, 14 percent in Italy, and even 10 percent in Greece.

No coincidence, then, that these are the countries most endangered by the parlous state of their economies; it seems even the Greeks, who have been busy burning effigies of Angela Merkel, are contemplating the reality of working for German masters, either at home or abroad, in the re-shaped Europe of the future.

In this country the Daily Mail, picking up the subject, suggests that the increase in Greeks learning German is as high as 20 percent, with young and pragmatic professionals determined to make themselves more employable. The newspaper doesn’t, however, turn its searchlight of truth upon the dismal language-learning record in the UK.

Languages in British schools have long been on the decline. Research by the British Academy shows that A Level German was the second biggest casualty (after French) with a 44 percent decline between 1996 and 2007. Spanish briefly bucked the trend in recent years, but according to the latest statistics from British universities, the number of students signing up for European languages is down by 11 percent in the 2012 intake, with those interested in German dropping by a whopping 23 percent. Not surprisingly, as many as a third of university language departments have closed in the last seven years.

It seems that we’re on our own little island, doing our own thing, as usual.

And yet my own experience of German is that it is a far more accessible language than many. Unlike French (or even English), it is written pretty much as it sounds, and once you get used to the idea of the verb at the end, its grammar is not so hard.  Institutions like the CBI and the Chamber of Commerce are united in their opinion that language is one of the key foundations of trade, and thereby of growth. So buck up you Brits. Go and hammer on the doors of the Goethe Institute. Let’s sprechen our way out of this recession.

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