Why expats in Germany don?t learn German

Why expats in Germany don?t learn German

Why expats in Germany don?t learn German

Debates are taking place across Germany as to why a high number of expatriate workers are not interested in learning the local lingo.

A recent statement in the German parliament by Christian Democrat lawmaker Jens Spahn condemned Berlin residents who communicate in English as elitist provincial hipsters. The comment sparked a countrywide debate amongst expats on the values of learning German and the reasons why many expats don’t take the trouble. Spahn’s argument was based on the fact that English usage prevents participation by locals who can’t speak the international language as well as being detrimental to those who’ve gone to the trouble of learning German.

A local English language newspaper took the chance to widen the dispute by running a Facebook poll on the subject, with somewhat surprising results. The questions included the preferred length of time an expat should stay in Germany without learning German, with 43 per cent of respondents suggesting two to three years was long enough. Only seven per cent thought it shouldn’t be necessary for a foreigner in Germany to speak German at all. Further conversations with expats all over the country revealed reasons for not learning the language were usually down to a lack of motivation.

One respondent, a professional nurse from the USA, said she doesn’t feel at all guilty about not speaking German, as she doesn’t need it in her workplace. She works on an American air base where most Germans speak English, and sees an American doctor as well as an off-base dentist fluent in her own language. She admits to having tried, but found the language too hard to master.

Another expat from Canada, resident in Germany for two years, initially started German lessons but gave up as he found most Germans switched to English when he spoke with them. He lost confidence in his ability and became lazy as most of his friends are British and his Masters’ course is in English. However, he’s uncomfortable when dealing with officialdom and authorities, and feels guilty for not continuing with his language studies.

Wherever in foreign lands expats hang their hats, the language problem is much the same, as are the feelings of guilt when it’s obvious the local language is far more tricky than expected. Communication is essential to all humans, even those to whom language learning actually is rocket science. One way to get ahead is to start a language course before leaving the home country, as even slightly successful initial attempts to communicate can act as a stimulus to further study.

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