Cooperation between France and Germany is at its peak, however the teaching of German in France has gone rapidly downhill. Indeed, French students could not care less about Goethe’s language and focus on learning English (of course) and Spanish. Here is a small analysis of a not terribly encouraging linguistic phenomenon.
Over time, the number of future German speakers in France has continually declined. Nowadays, only 15% of French students (both at school and university) study German, as opposed to 36% in the 1970’s, which represents a terrifying fall. So why is there such a lack of interest? Unfortunately, German suffers from a few fatal prejudices: “German sounds ugly”, “German is hard to learn”, “German is useless” (three statements I hear far too often among my fellow students). Here are the facts: the classes are deserted when they are not cancelled and French people that can speak German are on their way to extinction. German, it seems, really is about to become a “rare” language in France!
This obvious lack of interest in German is, however, far from logical. Let’s take a look at the first statement – “German sounds ugly”: Germany is somewhat of a blur to most French teenagers who continue to think that all Germans speak like angry Nazis. German is definitely a language of character, but not “uglier” than another. Let’s now address the second statement – “German is hard to learn”. Well, aren’t all languages? It is well known that German is a very logical and mathematical language and it is true that learning German could drive you crazy, but every language has its own difficulties. Finally, let’s evaluate the third statement – “German is useless”, which is undoubtedly the stupidest one. Indeed, German is the first language in Europe: one in five Europeans speaks German, against 15% for French and 14% for English. Moreover, German is slowly becoming more important with more and more Eastern European countries joining the European Union. In these countries, German is the first language taught in school. In addition, German closely follows English regarding the commercial activity of France and for a very good reason – Germany is one of its main economic partners. If 30% of French exports are handled in German and only 15% of students are learning it there is a problem! This brings me to my last point: German is unquestionably an asset on your resume! Too many students wrestle for Spanish-related jobs, whereas no one is willing to take the German-related ones…
Nevertheless, there is still hope. Figures for the new academic year show a small increase in students learning German as a second language, which has reversed the tendency. Perhaps it is due to a sudden spark of interest in German from young people due to the success in France of German bands like Rammstein or Tokio Hotel (even if only one of them is any good, the other one can at least be congratulated for making young girls interested in German).
Because of the increasing quality of educational cooperation between France and Germany, it is now easy to get in touch with the partner country’s language thanks to numerous cultural and academic exchanges. Moreover, the “dialogue” between France and Germany requires stronger mutual understanding; thus it is necessary to reinforce German teaching in France, but also the other way round.
German may be on its way to extinction in France, but the most courageous French can improve their knowledge of the language thanks to this French-German dictionary.