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9. Launching the fightback

To counteract the steady decline in the teaching of German, British universities sought the assistance of the Goethe Institut, whose aim is to promote German language and culture throughout the world. Their joint campaign, entitled "Learn German", was launched in June 2002 in an attempt to help British schools discover the language. In order to dismantle residual negative impressions and to give a more accurate picture of life in modern Germany, postcards and posters sent out to schools made reference to personalities such as Claudia Schiffer and Michael Schumacher and dance music events such as the annual Love Parade, held in 2008 in Dortmund.

Love Parade in Berlin

The German embassy in London, the British council in Berlin, the British foreign office and the Goethe-Institut in London also launched an entertaining and informative website called The Voyage which enables young Britons and Germans to learn more about each other. The British-German Association has also launched Youthbridge, a project aimed at encouraging students in British schools to learn German.

In a survey of 560 UK students published in August 2008, 20% of those polled stated that they would consider living in Germany, which made Germany the fourth most popular European country in the survey behind Spain, Italy and France. The poll - by PCP Research - found that 58% of those questioned did not speak a second language, but - significantly - that 71% wished they could. Schools minister Jim Knight said:

It's fantastic to see the next generation of young people are hoping to spread their wings and strengthen Britain's links to the rest of the world. This research is yet more proof that we need to equip today's youth with the tools to succeed in the international marketplace - which means encouraging all young people to improve their language skills. Having more young people able to speak a second language is vital to the future success of the UK economy, which is why the government is taking steps to ensure that all young people have the opportunity to learn a language. 

In order to promote language study and to help the design of future language courses, the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies (LLAS) at the University of Southampton compiled an online database of 700 reasons to learn languages. Although the reasons compiled were non-hierarchical, the following conclusions were drawn about the participants reasons for studying languages:

  • Language learning is enjoyable: Most students who were learning languages in a post-compulsory setting were doing so for reasons of personal satisfaction, such as enjoyment, interest and challenge.
  • Language learners acknowledge the possibility of employability gains but this is not the main reason for studying languages: 86% of participants in the LLAS research believed that learning a language would be helpful in their future career, but on the whole this was less important to them than the personal satisfaction resuling from language learning.
  • Language learners believe that languages promote better relationships with others (individuals and countries)
  • Language learners are uncertain about the existence of strategic benefits of language learning for the UK and EU
  • Language learners are interested in learning about culture

Researchers from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London and the University of Stirling warned in August 2008 that graduates without language skills will find it much harder to find jobs in the modern economy. "Employers ranging from law firms to multinational banks to major aid and development organisations confirmed that applicants with languages were, at the very least, viewed more favourably than those without," they said.

"Some stated categorically that they would not employ people who spoke only English. For some companies, the specific languages were immaterial: they saw students with languages as much more flexible and adaptable, more likely to appreciate the need for intercultural communication skills and more able to build relationships with counterparts or clients in other countries."

CILT, the National Centre for Languages, believes that the downward slide of entries at GCSE might be slowing. Its researchers noted that entries for all languages had seen an overall decline of just 2.9%, compared with 5.8% last year and 10.5% in 2006. CILT's Dr Anne Davidson Lund said in August 2008: "The figures suggest a welcome slowing in the downward trend for language take-up at GCSE; what we want to see now is the reversal of that trend. It is more important than ever for teenagers to recognise the value of linguistic and intercultural skills. Languages compete with a host of other subjects at options time, yet language skills are highly valued by employers in the UK and beyond and give young people a real advantage in the jobs market."

On the next page you will find ten good reasons for studying German in particular.

 Web Links 
Goethe-Institut The Goethe-Institut in London plays a key role in promoting German language and culture in Britain.
The Voyage An entertaining and informative website aimed at bringing British and German youth closer together. In English and German.
Cool Germany? Find out more about the nationwide campaign to update British opinions of Germany.
Youthbridge Find out more about the Youthbridge scheme to promote closer relations between the youth of Britain and Germany.
CILT The homepage of CILT, the national centre for languages in Great Britain.
700 Reasons A database of 700 reasons to study Foreign Languages compiled by the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies (LLAS) at the University of Southampton.
Young 'dreaming of living abroad' The BBC reports on a survey of UK students about living abroad and their language skills.

Weiter!Part 10: Ten reasons to learn German

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