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Studying German? How fortunate…

Angie Nock confronts the sighs and shock with a defence as to why she studies German

In 1880, Mark Twain wrote the essay The Awful German Language. Perhaps this (along with a certain Austrian dictator) is the reason for German’s bad reputation. In England, if you tell someone you’re learning German, let alone studying it as a degree, you tend to be met with confused, possibly even shocked, expressions. Questions will be asked: Why would you want to study that? Out of all the languages, why German? Don’t they all speak English anyway?

So, why study German, you ask? Firstly, Germany is brilliant. There are many regional cultures within the country, meaning there is something for nearly everyone: arty types can go to Berlin, traditionalists to Munich, and wine-drinkers to the Mosel Valley. Sport enthusiasts can enjoy both mountains great for skiing and cities flat enough for cycling. Even cuisine varies according to region.

Getting around these various places in Germany is pretty easy too. In the cities at least Germany has excellent transport, with a mix of buses, trams, the U-Bahn and the S-Bahn, plus high speed long-distance trains linking towns and cities together. Not only is the transport more punctual, cleaner and better developed than over here but it’s also generally a lot cheaper. A day ticket for all of Berlin’s travel zones, which includes Potsdam too, is around €7 and includes all forms of local transport. Compare that to, say, a London day ticket including all zones plus Watford (around £22) and the difference is clear.

As for learning the German language itself, it seems like a pretty sensible choice to me. Germany’s economy is one of the largest in the world and certainly the strongest in Europe at the minute, meaning that in Germany you can practically kiss goodbye to those worries about being an unemployed graduate. Meanwhile at home, according to a 2012 survey by The Telegraph, German is the foreign language most valued by UK employers.

‘But what about the grammar? German has sixteen different ways of saying “the”!’ I hear you cry. Well, perhaps. But to me it seems a worthwhile price to pay for Germany’s cheap beer and punctual trains, not to mention all the other benefits.

A degree in German isn’t just about learning the language though. You get an insight into another country’s history, culture, politics and much more. Learning about Germany’s rich history is one of the things I love about the subject. Despite what secondary school History teachers might have you believe, there is more to German history than Nazism and two world wars. Weimar culture, The Reformation, Grimm’s fairy tales, the Cold War… The list goes on.

A language degree does not only open up opportunities at home and abroad. It also gives students experience in a mix of disciplines, from political thought to literature. As for German itself, perhaps it’s time for people to realise that, in the current climate, the subject is really not such a strange choice after all.


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