Thursday, March 7, 2013

Learning German in Ireland

The Irish Times - Monday, March 4, 2013

An Irishman's Diary

Derek Scally
There’s a little-known link between the Irish economy and the German language – something I call (Willy) Brandt’s Law.
The former West German chancellor Willy Brandt once explained the laws of linguistic engagement thus: “If I am selling to you I will speak English, but if you are selling to me, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen.”
Brandt’s Law when applied to Ireland means that, when the Irish economy hits the skids, people start learning German to help find work and new opportunities. When the economy recovers, attitudes reverse and the Irish think Germans – and all others – should learn English.
Instead of seeing German as a language of culture, thought, or even love, many Irish view German as a  ... "rescue ring" to fling at schoolchildren to keep them afloat in choppy economic waters.
In the grim 1980s, German language classes boomed as emigrants headed off to the BMW plant or a beer garden job. Three decades on, as the economy follows fashion back to the 1980s, .... Irish eyes have once again settled their gaze again on Germany and German.
A new promotional campaign and website –– is an attempt by the German, Austrian and Swiss embassies to explain the benefits of learning Europe’s most commonly-spoken native tongue – spoken by almost 120 million people daily.
Conscious of its audience, however, the new website front-loads the economic benefits. At this minute there are more than 1,000 job vacancies for German-speakers in Ireland, with many more positions for skilled, German-speaking staff in continental Europe.
So is the “German Connects” website a clever attempt to tap the Zeitgeist...?  At the recent launch of the website, Dublin secondary school students presented their thoughts on the matter. Many gave unconscious nods to Brandt’s Law, saying they hoped learning German would improve their career prospects and earning potential. A few took the broader view, saying learning German “gives a better taste for Europe”.
“People think German is hard,” said Aindrias Ó hEachteirn, in fifth year at Coláiste Eoin in Booterstown. “But it’s actually a lot easier than Irish.”
Remarks like that might come as a surprise to many in Ireland, where stereotypes about the “hard” German language are stubbornly difficult to shift.
One of the greatest difficulties for Irish students learning German – or any other modern language – is facing a daunting crash course in grammar, thanks to the removal of English grammar teaching from the Irish school syllabus. Compulsory Irish lessons have caused further collateral damage.
Adding to the difficulties are special, German-only burdens. It has played second fiddle to French, which Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn suggested last month was linked to religious orders’ preference for Romance languages. Rather than learn French because the long-vanished nuns wanted to teach it, perhaps the time has come to look to German. If nothing else, it’s worth finding out what they think of us by learning their language, visiting their country and asking them directly.
Aindrias Ó hEachteirn already did that. At the website launch he brandished a well-thumbed, dual-language copy of Goethe’s epic tragedy, Faust. It’s a daunting read but, just back from a school exchange, Aindrias is anxious to learn German for more than just economic gain.
“With every language you learn,” he said, “you take off a pair of blinkers you didn’t even know you were wearing and suddenly see much more.” So is the German language hard to learn? It’s not easy but, then again, neither is watching monolingual children emigrate to far-flung English-speaking lands in search of work.
There is an emigration alternative to 23-hour flights to Sydney and watching grandchildren grow up on Skype. Learning German takes time but, long-term, the effort can open doors to new home and new opportunities just a two-hour flight from Ireland.
Before the shock of recent years passes, it’s worth learning one lesson of the economic crisis: speaking only English in a globalised world is as much a risk as it is a benefit.


  1. I agree with this.
    I feel the way that America just assumes that the entire world will learn English just for our ignorance in learning another language is just plain arrogant. We really need to catch up with the rest of the world and start as early as possible, second or third grade would be best.

  2. It would be incredibly useful if American children learned a language in grade school, because they would pick it up more easily, and they will quickly become fluent, unlike starting to learn a language in high school, where it is much more difficult.

  3. I think it's cool that after you get past the difficulty of figuring out when a situation is Accusative, Dative or what-not (and how they affect THREE different genders for nouns), German shares similar sentence structure with English, so it can be easier to learn.

  4. Though I know a lot of students are overwhelmed with the three genders and the different sentence structure, German can make a lot more sense to learn than Spanish, which is more pushed in America. In a business field it would be more beneficial to learn German, as well as any field involving Europe, as German markets are huge across Europe.

  5. I agree with Ian that America needs to catch up. The reason we've become so arrogant with our language is because for a long time we've been the economic capital of the world, so other people had to learn english to communicate with us. But now things are changing and other places like Europe and Asia are expanding their markets. We're going to have to break out of this arrogant streak and begin to learn how to communicate with the rest of the world, it's the only way to break out of our isolationism and stubbornness as a nation.

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. English is universally learned, but German should be even more universal!

  10. Hello,

    Thanks for the article about german skype teacher.I did the lessons from It very useful and I am quite satisfied.

  11. Hi Berthold

    I want to learn german can you recommend me this e-book please help me

  12. Great sharing.In this blog it discuss on Learning German in Ireland.It is very interesting topic.
    This is really informative and helpful blog for us to use to learn such a new thing.
    As a reference education essay that give more useful of information that can learn a part of writing because provide from those who experience in writing thesis.
    Thank you for nice post...