GERMANY: Higher profile for German sought

Germany is aiming to raise the profile of German as an academic language in a multilingual environment.

Addressing a three-day conference run by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the Institut für Deutsche Sprache (IDS) and the Goethe Institute, federal President Christian Wulff stressed the importance of promoting multilingualism and establishing German as a foreign language.

"In order to open up Germany more to junior academics abroad, our science and research has to be so interesting that it is worthwhile to surmount the language barrier," Wulff added.

German has played a key role in the sciences and the humanities over the centuries. IDS director Ludwig M Eichinger described its growing importance in the 18th and 19th century. German had attained "a unique position because in this era, it established itself in the newly formed universities in the spirit of Alexander von Humboldt".

Today, however, just 1% of publications in the sciences are in German. English has been given an additional boost as a lingua franca through universities being integrated in international networks.

The conference aimed to assess the role of languages in academic activities and identify ways of achieving multilingualism among academics.

DAAD president Max Huber referred to multilingualism as being the "ideal approach to integrating guest students and visiting academics" that would simultaneously ensure "the diversity of perspectives in academic debate" and "an international as well as national perception of research and teaching".

Goethe Institute president Klaus-Dieter Lehmann reported that his organisation was making a huge effort to establish German as a foreign language abroad. In India alone, German was being introduced at more than 1,000 higher secondary schools. German language centres were also being successfully established in China.

"But then giving the impression that a knowledge of German isn't even necessary to work at universities and research institutions and to communicate with colleagues in Germany is highly demotivating," Lehmann said.

According to Peter Funke, vice-president of the German Research Foundation (DFG), the language used in academicia also ought to depend on the topic being dealt with.

"The humanities, in particular, thrive on the value of their own respective language," Funke maintained. He also called for more incentives to take up learning foreign languages.

Funke helped to develop the European Master of Classical Cultures. Students must study in at least two universities with different languages. They have a choice of 12 universities in nine countries and must then tackle the languages of the countries where the universities of their choice are located.

The German Academic Exchange Service is the world's largest funding organisation for the international exchange of students, scientists and scholars. The Goethe Institute is Germany's worldwide cultural organisation and offers language training in a wide range of countries. The Institut für Deutsche Sprache is Germany's central non-university institution for research on the German language and the documentation of its present-day use.

The conference was held at the Zollverein Coal Mine industrial complex, a UNESCO World heritage site in Germany's former industrial heartland, the Ruhr region. Conference supporters included the Rectors' Conference and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.