Germany’s Bild Newspaper: Germans Speak Poor English

Bild, a mass-circulation tabloid newspaper in Germany, can be a great source of snippets of news and a great reflection of a body of opinion in the country. It is always worth a quick read!

A front page story last week related to language. Only short, an English translation of the article in full is:

Adults Speak Poor English

Düsseldorf: The knowledge of English amongst adults in Germany is only average. In a comparison of 60 countries, Germany was only ranked 14th. The leading nations are Sweden, Norway and Estonia followed by Austria, Poland and Belgium. In last place is Iraq. (EF Education First)

This short article raises several fascinating questions:

- why is the article on the front page at all? The concept that Germans speak poor English (and 14th out of 60 is not so poor) must be a major concern. The implication is that speaking English is key to success in the world and in business. But……Germany punches vastly beyond it’s weight as an exporter to the point where the surplus is verging on embarrassing. Surely there is not a problem here?

- The countries quoted as leading in the field are generally smaller and fewer people in the world speak their language. So…..they would speak more foreign languages wouldn’t they! The 5 million Norwegians have more of a need to communicate outside their own country than 80 million Germans. Germans should therefore not expect to be as good linguists as Swedes and Norwegians as the incentive is not so great?

So, as someone who always enjoys spending time in Germany, it was interesting and surprising to see this story given such prominence. This implied linguistic insecurity seems entirely unwarranted. Incidentally the next story, given an equal amount of column inches, was that Germans are expecting to spend a record amount on Christmas presents this year – the average budget is expected to be €273 , an increase of €43 over the previous year.