German in Academic Exchange

group of scientists speaking
© Getty Images/shapecharge

What makes German as a foreign language attractive? Why is it worth learning German in scientific contexts? Five Germany-Alumni report how they learnt German and why the language is important to them.

A second mother tongue

“My father attended the German School in Lima because my grandfather had immigrated from Switzerland. As a four-year-old, I was already singing ‘Alle meine Entchen’ because I went to the nursery at the German School. At weekends I would watch German children’s films like Pumuckl. These childhood memories make me feel closely connected to Germany. Even after learning a bit of German like that in my early years, I still found German grammar hard at school. There are still some aspects I haven’t completely mastered. German is a very precise language and you can describe many things exactly using few words. I like that. After finishing school I wanted to go abroad. The scholarship for graduates of German schools abroad even allowed me to do my entire degree in architecture in Germany. I completed my degree at the University of Stuttgart in 2014 and now I’m working for a Munich-based firm of architects that operates internationally.”

Eileen Dorer
A budding architect from Peru with a degree in engineering, Eileen Dorer learnt German at the Alexander von Humboldt German School in Lima, where she came top of her class in her final school-leaving examinations.

Exchange in German

“The legal systems that were introduced in East Asia in the nineteenth century are based on German law. It therefore makes very good sense for lawyers wishing to do academic work to learn German. I came to Freiburg to study at the university there in 1983. It took me two years to really learn the language properly. After doing a master’s, I went back to Freiburg to write my thesis on civil case law in Germany and Japan. Writing in German was tough, though for Japanese people the hardest thing is the pronunciation. At first, I would read aloud to myself from the newspaper, even when I didn’t understand what I was reading, and did lots of phonetic exercises. Ger- man as an academic language plays an important role at symposia staged by the Ostasiatisches Fachnetzwerk Rechtswissenschaft (East Asian Law Network), and only few of the lectures are in English. Discussions are also conducted in German. We hosted the most recent meeting in Kyoto in 2017, on the subject of human rights in Europe and Asia.”

Prof. Dr. Masahisa Deguchi
A law scholar, Professor Deguchi teaches civil case law at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto and is an alumnus of the Ostasiatisches Fachnetzwerk Rechtswissenschaft.

Important reserach

“My research focuses on the social history of Berlin during the Nazi era. One aspect I am exploring in my thesis is how Jews in Berlin experienced their forceful eviction from their flats and from certain parts of the city. Without any knowledge of German I would have no access to many sources. These stories are too important for them not to be told, however. My first German course at the University of Toronto in 2014 was a huge challenge: I started from zero, and after a few weeks we were already translating documents from the nineteenth century in class. But I was determined to succeed. The complexity of the articles, grammatical cases and word order can be pretty frustrating. What I like is that there is no direct equivalent in English for some German words. ‘Feierabend’ is one of my favourite words! Thanks to a DAAD scholarship, I was able to attend an intensive language course in Berlin in the summer of 2017. This encouraged me to speak German in everyday situations.”

Caroline Cormier
A budding historian, Caroline Cormier is doing a PhD at the University of Toronto. She successfully applied for an intensive language course scholarship from the DAAD.

The beauty of the language

“I like the productivity and flexibility of the German language; there are so many possibilities for creating words and inflecting verbs. The very thing that makes the language so difficult is also what makes it interesting and beautiful. I learnt German as a second foreign language at secondary school. The pronunciation is rather like in Swahili. For years there has been growing interest in German in East Africa, and in our master’s degree course in Nairobi we teach communication skills for professional use and for German as an academic language. German novels relating to Africa are one area of my research. Obviously this is a small subject in the region, but three years ago we were able to establish GOZA, the Association for German Studies in East and Central Africa. I was greatly honoured to receive the Grimm Young Talents Award. This allowed me to spend a period of time doing research at Leipzig University. I have maintained close ties with my colleagues there for many years.”

Dr. James Meja Ikobwa
A specialist in German studies, James Ikobwa teaches at the University of Nairobi. In 2015 he received the Grimm Young Talents Award for young scholars of German language and literature from abroad.

A good investment

“All students at the German Jordanian University spend a semester at a German university and do a six-month internship in a German company. At first, it was not easy for me at Technische Universität Berlin because my German was not yet good enough. The grammar was the hardest. All the same, I think it’s good that the language is so clearly structured. I improved quickly and even extended my stay by six months so as to write the dissertation for my bachelor’s degree at the company Continental. Process optimisation was my topic, and I conducted all of the research interviews in German. I graduated in 2017 and now work for Microsoft in Amman, providing support for business customers in Europe. I speak German almost every day now because most of my colleagues work at our branch in Munich. For me, learning the language was a very good investment.”

Leen Hijazi
An industrial engineer from Amman, Leen Hijazi graduated from the German Jordanian University.


© Records: Miriam Hoffmeyer,

The DAAD alumni magazine LETTER tells interesting stories from science, culture, Germany and the DAAD alumni network.

We strive to use gender-sensitive language. External texts may not conform to our preferred wording.

* mandatory field