English in the school system
Responsibility for the German education system lies with the 16 federal states, allowing English study to begin at different ages in different states. Over 90 percent of students are studying English by third or fourth grade, at the age of 8 or 9, with 27 percent starting in first grade. There is currently debate about whether or not two hours per week is sufficient during the primary school years. Students who take a second foreign language usually begin it in seventh grade.
Since 2004 English is offered in all federal states; it is mandatory for all students except in one of the states along the French border, Saarland, where students can choose to study French instead. In addition English is not required at schools which offer ancient languages like Latin, Greek or Hebrew instead of modern ones. In the years following WWII, the emphasis in language teaching was on grammar, literature and writing skills. Today communication skills take precedence.
The German high school exit exam, which is mandatory for university admission, requires students to be tested in at least one foreign language, and a wide majority of students choose to be tested in English. Most university degree programs do not include mandatory English classes. The European university exchange program, Erasmus, sent nearly 28,000 German students abroad in 2008/2009, with France and Spain as leading destination countries followed by the UK.
English at work
Throughout the past decade Germany has been a world leader in exports. Germany’s primary exports are cars, chemical products, machines and heavy electrical devices. 39 Fortune 500 companies have their headquarters in Germany and the fastest growing importers of German goods are located outside Europe. A country so reliant on exporting goods around the world requires business people with a high level of proficiency in foreign languages. Although English is considered a mandatory asset for every manager, everyday work in German companies is universally conducted in German.
Culture and Attitudes towards English
As one of the strongest economies of the European Union, Germany values fluency in languages other than English, particularly French and Spanish, although Mandarin and Russian are increasingly studied. The most common attitude towards learning English is that it is essential for a successful career and expected of all citizens.
German politicians like Chancellor Angela Merkel have a thorough knowledge of the English language and many speak other languages as well, although at international meetings they often still prefer to use interpreters to be certain about the precision of their statements.
Since World War II English has been present to some extent in everyday German life. Although international movies and TV shows are often dubbed, American and British music is very popular as it is among young people throughout the world. There is some borrowing of English words into German but this provokes little concern amongst most German speakers.
Germans travel abroad more frequently and spend more per vacation than any other Europeans. The need for English and other foreign languages during these travels reinforces the importance of mastering communication in a practical way.
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