Language is our most important tool to think, communicate and learn. It makes us understand, helps us to put things into perspective, encourages us to question and helps us interact with other people. To learn new languages helps to give new perspective of the world around us and a bigger understanding of other cultures and ways of living. Language is power. Learn how to master your own language and your country will open up, learn more languages and the whole world opens up.
Swedish is not a big enough language to know if you want to be a member of, and take part in, a more global society. The fact that some languages have elevated to the status of ‘official languages’, the language of the elites and the powerful makes it essential for us to learn a second and, preferably, even a third language. In Sweden it’s compulsory to learn English in school and it’s also possible, from grade 6, to learn a second foreign language (Spanish, French or German).
I teach Swedish, English and German and this is the time of year when we visit the middle schools in our area to meet up with the 5th graders to advertise the three different languages.
Spanish is (and has been for some time now) the most popular second foreign language in the school where I’m working. Many pupils choose to learn Spanish because they associate it with positive aspects such as summer, sun, good food and holiday.
German holds a solid second place. The reason the pupils choose German is mainly because it’s similar to Swedish (due to its close relatedness), and therefore relatively easy to understand at first. What scares pupils is that they have heard that the grammar is exceptionally hard to learn. For some reason a lot of boys choose to learn German. I currently have a group in the 7th grade that consists of 29 pupils out of which 20 are boys.
French is a very beautiful, yet exotic sounding, language and I think that scares some of the pupils off. I congratulate the few that choose to study French, I’ve always wanted to learn that myself.
Making the tour to advertise the languages is a lot of fun. We have four middle class schools to visit and it’s astonishing to see just how small the kids in the 5th grade (11 years old) are, compared to the usual crowd of 13-16 years old hooligans I meet every day.
As a German teacher I want to convince them to choose the language I teach. I tell them that out of the three, German is the biggest language in Europe. Around 100 million people speak German. In Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Lichtenstein German is the official language. There are also around 55 million people who speak German as a second language. It’s a very practical language to know in the European business world and it’s good for making a global career. There are also a lot of German tourists coming to Sweden, so if you are interested in working in that area, learning German is a good choice.
By the end of our presentation there is an opportunity to ask questions, to me and my colleagues but also to the pupils we bring with us. Usually they want to know if learning a language is hard and if there’s any homework. This year a cute boy wanted to know what mountain chain they have in Austria and one serious looking girl also wanted to know, specifically, what language is the best to learn if you want to spend time in Jamaica (😳).
Fingers crossed I managed to convince a few pupils to study German instead of Spanish (I sincerely hope i didn’t steal them away from learning French). I’m not saying that learning Spanish is bad, it’s just that we need some diversity, and after all Germany is Sweden’s biggest and most important international trading partner. There are around 1100 Swedish companies situated in Germany and around 950 companies in Sweden owned by Germans. Maybe one day my pupils become successful entrepreneurs exploring the German market with help of their achieved language skills.