Minister of State Gernot Erler on the occasion of the opening of the XIVth International Conference of German Teachers, Jena/Weimar

03.08.2009 - Speech

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

What do “kitsch”, “muesli” and “kindergarten” have in common?

Perhaps you’ve already got it: they are all German words which have emigrated to distant shores. Whether you are in Buenos Aires, Johannesburg or Paris, people will know what you mean when you say “kitsch”, “muesli” or “kindergarten”.

Despite these linguistic bridges to the rest of the world, we Germans haven’t yet attained the status of “Exportweltmeister” when it comes to our language.

So, is a study undertaken by the British Council correct when it concludes that, 40 years from now, the world will be dominated by a linguistic elite comprising just a few languages, including English, Spanish, Mandarin and Arabic? In global terms, according to the study, German will be reduced to something of a curiosity, an exotic, minority-interest language which is no more than a niche for language buffs.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of our patron, Federal Foreign Minister Dr Frank-Walter Steinmeier, welcome to the XIVth IDT, the International Conference of German Teachers.

It is the German language which has brought you here, from Burkina Faso, China, Egypt, India, our European neighbours, Georgia, Brazil, Russia and Ukraine, to name but a few, to see Germany and the cultural and scientific centres of Jena and Weimar for yourselves.

I have taken a look at your extensive and impressive programme, which not only touches on aspects of grammar and teaching, but also looks at the future of the German language.

This is an issue which concerns all of us who are involved in promoting Germany’s foreign cultural relations and education policy.

Might I suggest that you use the IDT as a test laboratory, as an information and contact point, and as a forum for generating ideas for promoting the German language in research and education.

If Professor Hanuljakova will indulge me for unilaterally renaming the IDT, you are about to embark on what is in fact the biggest Ambassadors’ Conference on the German Language of recent years.

Now, I should explain that, every year, Dr Steinmeier hosts the traditional Ambassadors’ Conference which brings together in Berlin the heads of Germany’s missions abroad for a brain-storming session. I would like you to cover a similarly broad spectrum of topics as those Conferences do, from practices in your daily work, through current projects, to trends and the long-term outlook for the promotion of German cultural relations and education policy throughout the world.

The German language is in demand. France and the USA have already caught the Tokio Hotel bug, and I hear that Israeli youth is now also succumbing to it. Young people in Tel Aviv are heading for German language classes in droves, so that they can understand their pop heroes’ lyrics. And all because of Bill Kaulitz!

Be cool, speak deutsch”! Even if it raises hackles on the backs of our language purists, young people in New England are flocking to take part in interactive courses in which they learn German via the medium of music. Similar stories are emerging from Turkey, Belarus and Uzbekistan.

The fact that the IDT was already fully booked up several weeks ago is a tribute to the organizers, the International Association of German Teachers and the Conference Organizing Committee based at and around the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena. It is also an amazing signal for the German language.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude for the commitment which has been shown by all of you who work in schools, Goethe-Institut branches, universities, training centres and other institutions, both in Germany and abroad. The Japanese have a saying: “To teach is to learn”. I am sure that that rings true for the German teachers among you.

Teaching German enables you to constantly enhance your own knowledge and insights. We need language enthusiasts like yourselves, who can not only teach their students good German, but also communicate images and an understanding of Germany and the German-speaking world. As teachers, you are building bridges not only between languages, but also between cultures and between people: between your own countries and Germany; in fact.

Every one of you is therefore contributing to mutual understanding, and I would like to say a special “Thank you ” to you for doing so.

As teachers, you are part of the worldwide inter-cultural dialogue and key actors in promoting German cultural relations and education policy. In order to enthuse young people for the German language, you need a range of qualities: an enthusiasm of your own, perseverance, the ability not to take yourself too seriously, the gentle touch, diplomacy, patience and humour. And of course, a love of the language.

Diplomats and politicians are constantly rediscovering the importance of openness, both vis-à-vis other countries and within our own society. Communicating openness via language is one of the central pillars of our policy for promoting German and Germany abroad. That is what makes language such a fundamental part of cultural policy.

But what could be more appropriate, here in Jena, than to listen to the words, not of Goethe, Schiller, Herder or Wittgenstein, but of schoolchildren and prospective students (who are, after all, the target of our endeavours), about what attracts them to the German language, what their own visions for the future are, and what avenues the language opens up for them?

Here are some of the comments we have received in connection with various programmes which we have launched to help promote German culture and education:

An Egyptian applicant for a place on a course of study writes:

One of the most important things I have learnt from my German teacher at the German School is that you have to look beyond your own horizons. That attitude will define how I approach my studies.”

A German-speaking student in Poland, who hopes to study in Germany, writes:

What could be more exciting for a physics enthusiast than to visit the Land of Physicists? I cannot wait to find out about the latest developments and most efficient research methods in Germany. Ever since I was a child, I have dreamed of winning the Nobel Prize.”

A former schoolgirl at the German School in Prague, who is now studying in Mannheim, says:

The lecture room at the University of Mannheim was filled with 300 students, and it was quite overwhelming at first. But I was surprised how open the German students were who came up to talk to me, especially when they found out that I spoke German. It made me realize what my father meant when he used to say that language is the key to all individuals and cultures.”

Looking beyond your own horizons”, “the Land of Physicists”; “the key to all individuals and cultures”. This small selection of key words sums up all the arguments for learning the German language, and brings me to one of the main goals of our cultural relations and education policy in the wider world, namely, to treat the promotion of the German language and the promotion of German culture as a single entity.

The Federal Foreign Office and the intermediary organizations, particularly the Goethe-Institut, have made this one of their guiding principles. Intercultural encounters and the communication of language skills mutually reinforce one another, and we attach equal importance to them in our cultural relations and education policy. The Federal Foreign Office pursues a sensitive language policy which is set firmly in the context of multilingualism and intercultural dialogue. It does so in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut, the Central Agency for Schools Abroad, the German Academic Exchange Service and other players in the field of education and research. In this way, we are dovetailing with the multilingual approach adopted by the European Union. The chances of maintaining and enhancing the importance of German as a foreign language in Europe and the rest of the world depend crucially on whether we succeed in establishing multilingualism as a basis for cultural and economic development.

You may be wondering how the European Union can pursue what appear to be two diametrically opposed goals, namely the creation of a European identity on the one hand and linguistic diversity and multilingualism on the other.

The answer is not hard to find. As Wilhelm von Humboldt said, “Language (…) gives expression to the diversity of thought. Whoever learns a foreign language discovers that the new words are like windows to another world, which draw the learner inexorably into it.”

The globalized world in which we live is making multilingualism one of the main goals of European education. Europe’s cultural and linguistic variety has always been one of its strengths. Language teaches us to understand the world.

“Weltanschauung” is another interesting word which has become a German export success.

The only way to develop a Weltanschauung, literally a view of the world, is to actually go and take a look at that world. And languages are the key to understanding it. That is the starting point for our cultural relations and education policy.

Education is a key resource for the 21st century, both for us as individuals and for the international community. We can only face the challenges of globalization and the ever more closely interwoven fabric of the world economy with enhanced specialist qualifications, improved language abilities and better intercultural skills.

The acquisition of foreign languages, particularly at school, has a vital role to play here. In today’s globalized world, a mastery of foreign languages is often a decisive factor in determining a person’s educational and career paths. Many students have adopted the motto “Englisch ein Muss und Deutsch ein Plus”: which means something like “Knowing English is an onus, knowing German is a bonus”. Accordingly, in the competition between languages, the arguments for learning German have to be made all the more convincing and attractive.

The German economy is highly export-oriented, i.e. it is geared to the rest of the world. A positive image of Germany is therefore crucial for the success of our export-led economy, because it fosters our trading partners’ trust in us and in our ability to deliver.

Trust is a factor in stability, especially in times of crisis. Trust, in turn, depends on understanding, and to be understood, we need to win hearts and minds. Learning the German language is a promising route to gaining a deeper understanding of Germany and its people.

German is the most widely spoken mother tongue in Europe and is therefore very much a gateway to the European continent. German culture and art are an important part of the European cultural tradition, and are therefore of international significance, and we see this continuing in the present day in the field of design and in the creative industries. As a centre of excellence in the sciences and higher education, Germany is a leader in innovative fields such as environmental technology and solar power. Our aim is to promote Germany as a centre of scientific excellence and to extend our scientific potential, and it is specifically with this in mind that we have opened our universities to applicants from abroad. We are convinced, however, that anyone intending to study or undertake research in this country must have a mastery of the language which is commensurate with his private and professional needs and which will open up new avenues for his professional and academic development.

We have launched a number of campaigns to ensure that our cultural relations and education policy responds to this necessity. I would like to briefly describe two of these campaigns: Dr Steinmeier’s initiative entitled “Schools: Partners for the Future (PASCH)”, and the Research and Academic Relations Initiative.

The first of these, the Schools Initiative, was launched by the Federal Foreign Office to promote the German language in schools and in vocational education, so as to open up new educational prospects for young people throughout the world. A knowledge of German not only broadens one’s linguistic and cultural horizons, but is also a useful tool for extending one’s professional options, including employment in German companies.

A knowledge of German is an educational asset which creates added value, both for the individual and for worldwide linguistic and cultural diversity. That is why the Federal Foreign Office is stepping up its efforts to improve and extend the teaching of German in foreign schools in a sustainable manner. Multilingualism as a guarantor of cultural diversity continues to be a central educational aim, even in this age of globalization and the Internet, in which English has become the world’s lingua franca. The Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once said: “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” The German language can help to overcome borders and improve understanding between people and cultures. That is precisely the approach of the Partner Schools Initiative, which is aimed at supporting exchanges between German and foreign schoolchildren and teachers within a worldwide educational network. Participants from Germany and the rest of the world profit from the initiative, which brings people closer together and provides a forum in which students from around the world can come together to discuss topics of global interest.

We have achieved much within the space of one and a half years. The network now comprises more than 1300 partner schools in all five continents. This is because we have been able to count on skilful, highly motivated partners, such as the Central Agency for Schools Abroad, the Goethe-Institut, the Pedagogical Exchange Service and the German Academic Exchange Service.

Since Dr Steinmeier launched the initiative in Jakarta in February 2008, a large number of teachers have received further training, and schoolchildren from around the world have taken part in language courses in Germany. Schools from China to the USA and from South Africa to Finland have been in contact with schools in Germany with a view to forming a partnership. This is because our aim is to link foreign schools not only with each other, but also with schools in Germany.

This year, we are focusing primarily on networking between foreign schools. We will need to make a special effort if we are to reach the generation of “digital natives”, that is to say, the generation which knows the world only through the digital lens. There is a digital divide between my generation and today’s young people. If we are to reach them, we need to get to grips with the possibilities which digital technology offers for communication and networking, and exploit them more fully ourselves.

With that in view, we have created a fantastic interactive Internet platform, PASCH-net (www.pasch-net.de), a fascinating tool designed to help schools and individuals to network with each other.

PASCH-net responds to the needs of the young, digital, global generation for whom communication via the Internet is as natural as talking over the telephone, and for whom a world without Facebook, Google and Wikipedia is almost unimaginable.

In addition to the many interactive programs for improving one’s German, there are educational games and competitions, and teachers can use the learning platform to practise the latest forms of e-teaching, improve their teaching methods and find tips on how to improve and innovate their German lessons.

PASCH-net can be accessed by any interested school, teacher or student, which means that anyone who is interested in German and Germany can get into the PASCH network.

Our aim is to offer our partners something which extends beyond their school years. We want to keep in contact with them over the long term. To give just one example of how we do this, we offer grants to graduates of our partner schools to enable them to undertake basic studies in Germany. I believe that we are moving in the right direction by seeking to encourage as many school leavers as possible to study in this country.

This is why another central goal of Germany’s cultural relations and education policy is to advertise German universities abroad and persuade foreign students and academics to come to Germany. The reasons for this are obvious. Today’s major challenges, such as climate change, the depletion of natural resources and instability on the world’s financial markets, do not stop at our borders. They are global challenges which can only be met by global cooperation in science and research.

Education, creativity and know-how, which are so important for our society, are available the world over. If those resources are to be put to good use in Germany and for Germany’s benefit, our science sector will need to cooperate with its counterparts in other countries. Our society is therefore dependent on an internationally networked science sector. German scientists must seek interaction and cooperation with international partners.

For several decades, the Federal Foreign Office has supported international academic exchanges and networks linking our students, scientists and universities.

The Research and Academic Relations Initiative 2009 is a major step towards extending our commitment in this field. New grant schemes for foreign students and new forms of financial support for German universities are aimed at furthering the internationalization of our scientific community.

In this way, we can maintain Germany’s position as the world’s third most popular destination for foreign students after the United States and the United Kingdom.

The Initiative comprises nearly 40 individual measures. It would be beyond the scope of my speech to list them all, but I would like to mention a few which are of particular relevance to the present occasion.

For example, the promotion of the German language is an important component of the Initiative. We use modern technologies such as the Internet to support people who wish to learn German prior to coming here.

We have made grants available to foreign teachers of German wishing to undertake a Master’s Degree in German as a Foreign Language at a German university as a means of improving both their language and teaching skills.

The University of Jena also benefits directly from the Initiative in a number of ways, and its cooperation with Ukraine in the area of political science is supporting that country’s efforts to build a democratic civil society.

We are also contributing to the University’s capacity in the field of Caucasus Studies (a capacity which, as it happens, is unique in Germany), because this specific area of knowledge is of enormous significance for Germany’s cultural and economic relations with the Caucasus region. All of these initiatives demonstrate the dynamism of our work in the field of education. They open up new horizons, professional options for individuals and even the possibility of studying abroad, taking part in a student exchange or travelling. They are “generational” projects and investments in the future and in education.

I do hope that you will familiarize yourselves with the Partner Schools Initiative in the course of this IDT. There will be an opportunity to do so on Thursday, 6 August, as part of a podium discussion with students and teachers from PASCH schools all over the world.

Starting today, the Partner Schools Initiative stand in the Rose Rooms will also be presenting the PASCH website and the varied digital options which it has to offer.

We have, above all, to thank the teachers and head teachers of PASCH schools for the fact that the Partner Schools Initiative has achieved so much in so short a space of time. Dr Steinmeier invites them, and indeed all German teachers present here today, to celebrate this success in Jena Market Square on Friday, 7 August, starting at 5.30 p.m. An entertaining programme has been put together for you, including music, literature and some interesting discussions. You are all cordially invited!

Moreover, you may have noticed a colourful VW Caddy outside the entrance to the University. It is part of a fleet of cars being used in the “Deutschwagen” advertising campaign in Poland. I would like to ask our numerous guests from Poland, in particular, to take a look at the Deutschwagen and familiarize themselves with the campaign and how it is being targeted. Dr Steinmeier launched this language advertising campaign in April, under the aegis of the Goethe-Institut in Warsaw. Over the next three years, the cars will be touring Poland, promoting Germany as a place to study.

Allow me to express my thanks once again to the International Association of German Teachers; the IDT Chairman, Professor Barkowski, and his team; teachers; and representatives of Ministries and our intermediary organizations.

German is not an exotic, minority-interest language!

German is a world language!

German is a language of the future!

I trust that you will continue to support us with your commitment to German.

In order to ensure the success of this IDT, it is crucial that, when you return to your own countries, you take on the role of ambassadors and communicate to others the impressions and experiences which you have acquired during your stay in Jena and Weimar.

One day, perhaps, some of your students will come to Jena to study.

I wish the “International Ambassadors’ Conference on the German Language” fruitful discussions and every success!

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