Why learn German?

  • German is highly sought after by employers: After Medicine, the employment prospects for graduates with German are higher than for almost any other subject – including other languages. Employers look for linguists, as well as for engineers, accountants, lawyers, and managers with knowledge of German. “German is really useful but really hard to find.” (top law firm Slaughter & May). CBI (the employers’ organisation) surveys show German to be the language employers look for above all others. Very few graduates go into the ‘traditional’ linguists’ careers – interpreting, translating, teaching. 
  • Employers prize the skills of analysis, communication and critical thinking developed by linguists – quite apart from their linguistic skills. They also value the insights into other cultures which linguists possess. 
  • Universities look for ‘A’ level languages in candidates in all subjects with foreign languages, so that they can take part in undergraduate exchange programmes; many of these are with German universities. In terms of the ratio of applicants to places, German is one of the easier subjects to get into at Oxford or Cambridge. ML degrees involve a year abroad as part of the course – which means that you will automatically have on your CV a year’s experience with a multi-national company.
  • There is a huge shortage of Brits who speak German: Less than 4% of all A level entries in the UK are in a modern language, and only 0.6% are for German. Yet the shortage of British linguists is reckoned to cost the UK economy £7.3-£17 billion a year.  “The question abroad is not ‘Why should languages be useful to me?’, but ‘Why on earth would they not be?’” (The Times, 8 Feb 2012)
  • Germany is the UK’s biggest trading partner: The main criterion of the usefulness of any language is not the total number of speakers it has, but the links with and economic significance of the countries where it is spoken to the UK; quite simply, Germany is the UK’s second biggest trading partner. Trade doesn’t just happen; linguists are required. 
  • Germany is the world’s third largest exporting nation; of the world’s 100 biggest companies, 18 are German/Swiss, compared with 11 French/Belgian, 6 British, 0 Spanish. These companies are multi-national, but a knowledge of German, and of the country and its people will be expected in order to gain promotion to the higher levels of the company – even though this may not be mentioned in the initial job description. For instance, for many roles at Bentley (part of the VW Group) and Rolls Royce Cars (BMW), you’ll need to know or learn German.
  • German is the first language of over 100 million Europeans – almost twice as many as any other. Along with French and English, German is also one of the three working languages of the EU, and the second language of much of Eastern Europe. (Incidentally, while Spanish is important to the American economy, that doesn’t hold true for the UK.) And German isn’t a difficult language: the grammars of French, Spanish and Italian are much more complex. 
  • German culture is at the heart of Europe: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart (perhaps the greatest of all composers), and writers such as Goethe and Schiller – all German native speakers. Knowledge of German and its culture will greatly enhance your understanding and study of philosophy, history, and music. If you make a career in classical music, you will almost certainly spend time in Germany; if you study History, you will need to study primary sources, many of which are in German.
  • German can be combined with over 60 subjects at degree level ranging from Accountancy and History to Philosophy and Physics – quite apart from other languages. 

Some German and Swiss companies, and some of their UK brands:

Adidas (sports) – Aldi (supermarkets) – Bahlsen (biscuits) – Bayer (Aspirin) – BMW (Mini, Rolls Royce) – Benteler (parts for Vauxhall, Jaguar, etc.) – Bertelsmann (Penguin books, Dorling-Kindersley books) – Bosch (automotive and domestic appliances) – Braun (electrical) – Claas (tractors, agricultural equipment) – Daimler AG (Mercedes Benz, Smart) – Deutsche Bahn (rail, e.g. Arriva, Schenker) – Deutsche Bank (Morgan Grenfell) – Dresdner Bank (Kleinwort Benson) – Deutsche Post (DHL) – E.ON (gas, electricity) – Haribo (sweets) – Lidl (supermarkets) – Lindt (chocolates)– Neff (domestic appliances) – Nestlé – Nivea – Porsche – Puma (sports) – RWE (Thames Water, n-power) – Siemens (domestic appliances, power generation, medical technology, rail, etc.) – Storck (Bendicks Mints) – TUI (tourism) – Volkswagen Audi Group (Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Ducati motorbikes, Lamborghini, MAN trucks, Scania trucks, Skoda, SEAT, Volkswagen)

  • 2500 German companies employ over 500 000 people in the UK, more than any other national group of companies. The largest is Siemens, with over 18 000 employees; it has funded the building of a complete university engineering faculty in the UK (in Lincoln), and invests over 4 billion Euros a year in research and development.
  • Not all companies are as well-known as those above. The list above does not include the many UK companies with interests or subsidiaries in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. For instance, Rolls-Royce Aerospace’s German subsidiary makes aero engines. And some UK subsidiaries of German companies own other German companies!

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