Learning languages ​​besides English is useless

You need English, but also the neighboring language!

A third of the population in the EU lives in border regions. One could not speak of a marginal phenomenon, it was said at the beginning of the conference on multilingualism in border regions last week in Brussels. Neighbors should be able to communicate with each other, but the prerequisite for this is that one understands the neighbour's language and, in the best case, can speak well and understandably. Multilingualism is a trump card, play it off! ”Was the general tenor of the“ Talk to your neighbors ”conference in Brussels.

"No one of our employees speaks less than two languages, there is no other way. For us in management, three languages ​​is the lower limit of what you should bring with you. Quite a few of my colleagues speak significantly more than just three languages ​​"emphasizes Dr. Johannes von Thadden (photo), member of the management board of Airbus DS GmbH.

At the European aircraft manufacturer Airbus, which currently has around 135,000 employees from over 80 nations, including around 50,000 Germans and a little over 50,000 French, English is of course the official language, as in other European companies with global requirements, which each of the employees must master in addition to their native language. "But it is also clear that every one of us who works abroad has to learn the language of the country in which he works," continues the manager.

For example, Airbus deliberately sends trainees from Germany to France and vice versa for exchange. In joint summer camps, the trainees should "feel that learning a language has a practical advantage for them" and "connections between people should be created".

"People have to be able to feel that they are increasing their chances in life and that is what we do in companies."

But in many border regions in Europe, what has long been standard practice in companies like Airbus is still a long way off in public life.

"It has been said for decades that we in Europe have to learn the language of our neighbors and have to know them better, but we are still far from the goal," emphasizes the First Vice-President of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) and former Prime Minister of the German-speaking Community of Belgium, Karl-Heinz Lambertz (Photo).

The recently published study by the European Commission "Key Data on Teaching Languages ​​at School in Europe - 2017 Edition" proves that in only three educational systems in the EU, language learning is compulsory from pre-school level: in Poland, Cyprus and in the German speaking communityin Belgium.

Lambertz himself comes from the German-speaking community, a border region in eastern Belgium with French, German and Dutch language borders. I wouldn't have become anything I did if I hadn't also mastered several languages, says Lambertz. He also underlines the importance of motivation when learning a language. "People have to be motivated, then they learn a language much faster. So we have to use the opportunities for encounters and everyday situations correctly." The politician is convinced that anyone who has come across borders several times because they do not understand the language of their neighbors in a border area will want to make an effort very quickly.

"The younger the better"

And if you ask yourself whether your mother tongue is not suffering, Lambertz answers: That is indeed a question on which the experts take different doctrines, but one thing seems to prevail: "The younger people learn languages, the better it works. "

Apparently he has that too Free State of Saxony recognized in eastern Germany with its borders with Poland and the Czech Republic and is therefore particularly committed to early childhood education. In Saxony there are currently at least 50 children's facilities along the Saxon-Polish-Czech border, which are dedicated to the topic of neighboring-language education Dr. Regina Gellrich (Photo) from the Saxon State Office for Early Neighbor-Language Education. This happens in different ways with different models, be it in cross-border partnerships with children's facilities from the neighboring country or through playful neighboring language courses. There are also such all-day offers in elementary schools.

Overall, the number of students learning Polish and Czech in schools has doubled. A positive development, says Dr. Gellrich. But learning Polish and Czech in the border regions is far from normal and the neighboring languages ​​have not yet arrived everywhere in the educational program in educational institutions. Continuous courses in Polish and Czech, i.e. those started in early childhood and continued in school courses, are still the exceptions.

France strategy as a model

That too Saarland in the south-west of Germany, which is anchored in a natural multilingual area with Franco-German characteristics due to its special historical and geographical location in the triangle of three countries, wants to set a good example when it comes to multilingualism. But there is still a lot to do in the Saarland, as in the Free State of Saxony, he explains State Secretary for Justice and Europe and Representative for European Affairs of the Saarland, Roland Theis.

The Saarland state government has one in 2014 Multilingualism strategy, the France strategy, launched.

The aim of the strategy is to turn Saarland into a multilingual region with Franco-German characteristics within one generation. French should "appear as a lingua franca alongside the mother tongue and official language German and be supplemented by English", states the Saarland France strategy website. This would make Saarland the only multilingual federal state in Germany.

This means more cultural openness while at the same time being aware of one's own tradition and opportunities for diversity, and since France is one of the most important trading and sales markets for the Saarland, multilingualism is also an economic unique selling point.

As many people, institutions and actors as possible, including universities, educational institutions, associations, voluntary work, town twinning and business, must therefore be involved in the project in order to make it a success, continues Theis.

There is no either-or in English

So far, around 200 daycare centers and crèches are bilingual in the state. The long-term goal is to make all daycare centers bilingual. According to the motto ‘more languages, more opportunities‘, Saarland also wants to increase the number of bilingual schools and invest in the training of primary school teachers. In the long term, bilingual primary schools are to be created across the board.

Theis adds that the Franco-German cooperation in higher education is particularly successful.

In order to anticipate the discussion about the importance that the English language would then have in Saarland, the State Secretary emphasized that this was not about replacing English with French. "Just as it would be pointless to argue in school politics about whether we teach arithmetic or to teach children to read, it is nonsense in language politics to argue about whether we teach French or English to children. You need both in a border region ! "

The gap between educationally disadvantaged people and the highly qualified is widening

However, there mrs Susanne Höhn, director of the Goethe Institute in Brussels In a conversation after the conference, to consider that "the gap between people with a lack of education in our society and the highly qualified is widening. Similar to the divergence in our society between rich and poor, it is also with multilingualism."

"We have an excellently trained Erasmus generation who speak four to five languages ​​and then 20 percent of 15 year olds in Europe who have problems with reading and writing."

The company Airbus therefore advises that bilingualism should be promoted equally at all levels. "We not only exchange employees at the so-called academic level, but also below," said the managing director at Airbus DS GmbH, Dr. Johannes von Thadden. "Bilingualism is for everyone." You have to "find needs-based ways of attracting people with different interests and different skills so that they will recognize the opportunities offered by such multilingualism."

Because: "A company like Airbus could not survive at all without this multilingualism," says Airbus.

Belgium could have been a role model

Also Belgium could be a role model, but if you take a look at the study by the European Commission "Key Data on Teaching Languages ​​at School in Europe - 2017 Edition", it is noticeable that in some countries that Learning two foreign languages ​​by students before leaving full-time compulsory education is not compulsory is. The educational systems in which this is the case include the Spanish, Croatian and Slovenian, among others, also the educational system of French speaking community in Belgium. According to the study, all of these education systems provided at least the opportunity to learn two languages ​​from lower school (lower secondary school) at the latest - with the exception of the French-speaking community in Belgium.

"On the one hand, Belgium is always a certain role model, because on paper it is actually a multilingual country. It is trilingual (French, Dutch and German). This is documented in terms of language policy and it is something. France, for example, is a monolingual country in terms of language policy , although of course many other languages ​​are also present there, "explains Prof. Dr. Claudia Polzin-Haumann from Saarland University (photo).

"On the other hand, there is a language border running through Belgium, which is very strict and also subject to conflict. But that teaches us that we have to work on this language barrier instead of perhaps settling down with it. "

You could give impulses so that "you break things up in this direction or see things differently and Multilingualism again as a wealth and as an atout, can understand it as a trump card. "

Learning neighboring languages ​​would be an important point in this context, says Prof. Dr. Polzin-Haumann. "You need English, but you also need the neighboring language. It has to be fixed place in the education system to have. This is already an important first step, so that you can also take the Do not lose contact with your neighbor."

Uta Neumann