Thursday 21 April 2011

Do Germans and Spanish speak the same language?

There is a great story of a young Spanish man whose boss advised him to learn Mandarin Chinese to improve his chances in the export company he worked at. The young man was amazed at how quickly he learnt Mandarin that he developed sufficient anxiety to make him visit a psychiatrist, who advised the young businessman to talk to his parents. They found the whole thing perfectly straightforward: they had been part of an army of half a million Spanish persons who went to Germany in the 60’s and 70’s to find manual work. The parents had worked in the kitchens of a Chinese restaurant, and it was there that the troubled young man had been immersed in Mandarin Chinese, sitting in his pram while his parents was dishes in Germany .
(I’m going to leave some quotes in the original Spanish, in the spirit of the linguistic nature of this post.)
Currently another generation of Spanish workers are about to embark on the same journey, and we can expect to see tens of thousands moving to Germany in the coming years, but this time it will not be to fill manual labour posts, rather specialist positions as engineers and IT  technicians:
“Se produce un cierto paralelismo con la situación vivida en los años 60 del siglo pasado en la que cerca de medio millón de españoles emigraron a Alemania, por motivos económico-laborales, pero los expertos en selección destacan una importante diferencia: “el perfil de los emigrantes es totalmente diferente ahora. El perfil que se busca en Alemania es el de jóvenes licenciados“.
At the same time, the number of German citizens resident in Spain is cited at  130,232 by Spain’s office of government statistics, making them 4,9% of the immigrant population.
For the 2011 summer season, Spain’s tourism ministry is expecting 9 million German visitors, a 13% increase on 2010 figures:
“Durante su comparecencia en el Senado ante la Comisión de Industria, Turismo y Comercio, Mesquida ha señalado que la reserva anticipada en el mercado alemán para viajar en verano a España ha crecido un 13% con respecto al pasado ejercicio, y ha informado de que instituciones germanas han indicado que un total de nueve millones de alemanes visitarán el país.”
In this context, I was happy to be sent a copy of a report published recently by the Sub-directorate of international cooperation at Spain’s Ministry of Education, called “El español en Alemania. El alemán en España.  (Spanish in Germany. German in Spain).
The report was written by Dr Diego Iñiguez Hernández, Consejero de Educación at the Spanish embassy in Berlin, with a prologue by the Spanish ambassador in Berlin, and a closing section written by three German specialists resident in Madrid, writing from a personal  point of view about the teaching and learning of German in Spain. (As always, I am writing this post on a personal basis and not in any way representing any organization.)
The importance of foreign language acquisition in the life-chance opportunities for young people is given from real life examples in the report. On the one hand, the President of the German Association of Spanish language Teachers, Jochen Plikat, describes how two of his former students, young German citizens, are now working in South America thanks to their high level skills in Spanish; on the other hand, the Madrid – based German writers comment that a number of Erasmus places made available to Spanish students are left unfilled every year because the Spanish undergraduates are not able to show proof of their level of German. Opportunities are available: the question is whether or not we are equipping our young people to avail themselves of these opportunities.
I have met Dr. Iñiguez and it is a pleasure to listen to him: his knowledge of education in Spain and its place in Europe is encyclopedic, and his expertise is founded on a perfect grasp of the facts and figures which describe the past, explain the present and give pointers to how to be successful in the future. When you talk to Dr. Iñiguez you realize that he is one of those rare people who carry this mass of information in their head, ready for analysis and action at any time. For the rest of us, more ordinary mortals, this report provides a gold mine of statistics showing the teaching of the two languages in each country, with a detailed description, region by region of education policy in Germany, recognizing that each “Land” has autonomy in education.
In addition, there is a complete list of addresses and contact details for all centres in Germany where Spanish is taught. It is typical of Dr. Iñiguez’s personality that he does not just write about what there is, like a true pedagogue he provides the means by which teachers in each country can contact their colleagues and take the whole process on another stage.
The statistics are profuse, detailed and carefully compiled.  One of the most interesting charts is the one showing the number of speakers of the top 11 world languages. Mandarin Chinese appears as the number 1, followed by Spanish and then English, with German in 10th place. According to an accompanying note, German is the language with most mother tongue speakers in the EU.
 In the column showing the number of speakers of these languages as a second language, Mandarin Chinese is shown at 178 million users, with Spanish at 60 million, and German at 28 millions. In this column for English no data is shown: for the sake of completeness,, I would like to point out that the English language specialist David Graddol has calculated the number of speakers of English as a second language at 750 millions.   
The complete text of this report is available online at www.educació and it is certainly worth finding, especially for the insightful introduction by Dr. Iñiguez. The introduction is a statement of intent as well as a formal presentation: he refers to the soft-power and public diplomacy influence of language and culture in promoting the national interest, reflects on the opportunities brought about by globalization. He compares Spain’s international  cooperation actions through education and culture with those of other countries, and offers his description of the contribution education can make to serve the national interest (I give you my translation but recommend you go to the original source in Spanish), including: promoting the country’s image; reinforcing links with countries with which there is already a close relationship; play a part in the development of countries which are countries of origin of the immigrant communities in Spain; and to promote the  acceptance and recognition of Spain’s point of view in other countries.
In case anybody thinks that all this talk of language and culture is a sideshow, he reminds us that the sector contributes up to 15% of the country’s GDP, thanks to a combined effort by a number of government and non-government organizations.
Dr. Iñiguez looks ahead to the pilot implementation of a bilingual German/Spanish Baccalaureate, underway in Hamburg and under consideration in other regions, the importance of which he describes as the educational equivalent of a lunar landing.
How refreshing it is to read the author’s generous recognition of the contribution made by teachers, management and government officials in the different regions who have made possible the progress achieved to date.
I was delighted to be a witness to one aspect of the results of the outworking of this policy  when I visited a state school in Berlin with my Spanish students in 2009. The bilingual section of the school was a reality, and my students felt absolutely at home with their Spanish speaking German contemporaries, thanks to their dedicated teachers and an effective, inspiring plan at the Education Section at Spain’s embassy in Berlin.
I cannot emphasise enough that this brief resumé does not attempt to be a complete summary of the report: please do go to the source, and be inspired, as I have been, and rest assured that it is real, as I have seen for myself.
Do Germans and Spanish speak the same language?
The question is not really whether or not Spanish and Germans speak the same language, but, more importantly, whether they speak each other’s language.


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