German in Academic Exchange
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.”
Up to 120 particularly strong graduates of German schools abroad, language diploma schools and FIT schools are awarded scholarships to undertake a complete degree course in Germany. German lessons are given high priority at these schools. Applicants to the programme, which is financed from funding provided by the Federal Foreign Office, must be nominated by their schools. Since 2008 the scholarship programme has been part of the “Schools: Partners for the Future” (PASCH) initiative, a network of around 2,000 schools.
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.”
The DAAD-funded Ostasiatisches Fachnetzwerk Rechtswissenschaft (East Asian Law Network) was founded by Germany-Alumni from Korea, China, Japan and Taiwan in 2012. Since then, four symposia have been held, each attended by around one hundred participants, providing a platform for further networking of Asian lawyers. A fifth meeting is scheduled to take place in South Korea in 2019.
“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.”
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.”
Grimm Young Talents Award
Through its Grimm Young Talents Award, the DAAD rewards young scholars of German language and literature from abroad for their contributions to research and teaching in German language, literature and culture. The award is endowed with 3,000 euros and entails a research stay in Germany.
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.”
The German Jordanian University (GJU) in Amman is an example of a successful transnational education project. It is structured in much the same way as German universities of applied sciences, with a particular focus on the engineering sciences. It is financed by the DAAD from funding provided by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. All of its 4,400 students are given extensive German lessons, and its German department is currently the largest of the binational universities worldwide.
Community discussion: Why are you learning German?
How has your knowledge of German helped you in your training, in your career or in other areas of your life? What kind of experience have you had with German as a scientific language? Share your story with other German learners in the “German as a foreign language” community group.