Wissenschaftlicher Sammelband, herausgegeben von Thomas Tinnefeld - unter Mitarbeit von Matthias Ballod, Jan Engberg, Katja Lochtman, Günter Schmale, Veronica Smith. Saarbrücken: htw saar 2016. ISBN 978-3-942949-11-8

Foreign Languages – New Horizons

Wolfgang Teubert (Birmingham, United Kingdom)

Abstract (English)

As a window to alternative realities, foreign languages motivate us to look at the world and what is happening in it from different perspectives. Thus, they have us reflect on the relationship between discourse and reality. It were the crimes of the Nazis which put a question mark on the concept of German ‘rassisch’ and mostly replaced it by ‘ethnisch’, while ‘racial’ in English still sounds rather unproblematic. Our elites have known all the time that it is much easier to go your own way once you have compared different perspectives. This is why we find so many polyglot persons in top positions. And this is also the reason why the more exclusive schools place such a high value on foreign languages. While for a long time working towards true multilingualism was a high-value goal of the European Union, the current trend is more to train the wider population to carry out instructions in English. Obviously, lexis and grammar are the staple of foreign language competence. This is, however, what all the private or municipal language schools have on offer, too. Foreign language teaching at our state schools should be more ambitious. Learners will only fully master the target language if they habitually compare what is said in one language to how it could be expressed in the other language. This is what it takes to become creative in the target language. It is about learning how to express oneself beyond the point regulated by fixed rules. 
Keywords: Foreign language learning, schools’ mission statements, multilinguality, culture, 

Abstract (Deutsch)

Indem Fremdsprachen einen Blick in fremde Wirklichkeiten eröffnen, ermuntern sie uns, die Welt und das, was in ihr vorgeht aus unterschiedlichen Perspektiven zu betrachten und uns so zu einer Reflexion zum Verhältnis von Sprache und Wirklichkeit anzuregen. So haben beispielsweise die Verbrechen des Dritten Reichs bewirkt, dass in deutschen Diskursen das Konzept ‚rassisch‘ fast unsagbar geworden ist und meist durch das Konzept ‚ethnisch‘ ersetzt wird, während ‚racial‘ im Englischen noch immer als unproblematisch erscheint. Die Eliten haben schon immer gewusst, dass es dem, der gelernt hat, verschiedene Entwürfe zuletzt deswegen finden sich in Führungspositionen derart viele polyglotte Menschen. Gerade die exklusiven Schulen legen großen Wert auf einen anspruchsvollen Fremd­sprachenunterricht. Während die Förderung von Mehrsprachigkeit lange auch als ein vor­rangiges Ziel des sich vereinigenden Europas galt, geht es heute eher darum, die breite Bevölkerung darauf vorzubereiten, englischsprachige Anweisungen umzusetzen. Doch es gibt vereinzelt Ausnahmen: Luxemburg setzt mehr als andere Staaten auf Vielsprachigkeit, und auch das Saarland möchte in den kommenden Jahrzehnten zweisprachig werden. Natürlich sind Lexik und Grammatik die Basis fremdsprachlicher Kompetenz. Doch deren Vermittlung leistet auch der Unterricht der vielen Sprachschulen. Der Fremdsprachen­unterricht an den öffentlichen Schulen sollte mehr leisten. Nur der ständige Vergleich zwischen Muttersprache und Zielsprache lässt Sprachschüler erkennen, wie sich das, was in einer Sprache sagbar ist, in eine Perspektive der Zielsprache umsetzen lässt. Dies aber ist die Voraussetzung dafür, selbst in der Zielsprache kreativ zu werden. Es geht darum, zu lernen, wie man sich hilft, wenn man schließlich in Bereichen angekommen ist, die über die grundlegenden Regeln hinausgehen. 
Stichwörter: Fremdsprachenunterricht, Schulprogramme, Vielsprachigkeit, Kultur; Europa


1 Introduction: The Voice of The Daily Telegraph

Are foreign languages essential for everyone? What are they good for and who should learn them? While other countries have recognised the need to learn at least a limited amount of English, for Britain, the mother country of this global lingua franca, this question is very real. As it seems, the study of foreign lan­guages has become a recent concern for the conservative British newspaper The Daily Telegraph. These two articles, given here in abridged form, were published not too long ago:
Sacré bleu! A-levels in French plummet to record low (14 Aug 2014)
The number of pupils studying a foreign language has dropped to a record low amid fresh warnings over the dire state of French and German in state schools. Figures from exam boards show that the number of A-levels sat in traditionally po­pular foreign languages has halved in just over a decade.
French entries alone plummeted by more than seven per cent this year and have now declined by 43 per cent since the year 2000. Just 10,400 pupils took an exam in the subject this summer – the lowest on record – compared with more than 18,200 in the late 90s. German entries have more than halved from almost 9,000 just over a decade ago to 4,200 this summer. It means pupils are significantly more likely to study Latin and Ancient Greek than the language of Europe’s economic powerhouse. […] It is […] feared that students are deserting languages because they fear it is too hard to achieve top grades. […]
[B]usiness leaders criticised today’s results, saying British schoolchildren were lagging behind their peers on the continent. [...]. Marcus Mason, policy manager for the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “The continued decrease in the take up of foreign languages is a worrying trend as many businesses report that there is a skills gap in this area. Having strong knowledge of a foreign language is an excellent way of preparing young people for the wide-range of opportunities available in today’s globalised world.” Vicky Gough, schools adviser for the British Council, said: “[…] Understanding another language is key to understanding another culture – and that's increasingly crucial for life and work.“ (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/11034066/Sacre-bleu-A-levels-in-French-plummet-to-record-low.html; 31.01.2016)

German could face 'extinction in schools', heads warn (7 Oct 2015)
German could face extinction in the classroom as renewed worries emerge over inconsistencies in grading following reforms that were meant to tackle the issue, leading head teachers have said. […]
Head teachers also warned British students face "drifting into oblivion" because their Indian and Chinese rivals are better equipped with modern languages to face the world of business.
A report by the Headmaster's [sic!] and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC) and the Independent Schools Modern Languages Association (ISMLA) revealed no school was entirely happy with its results this year, with a "flawed" grading system usually seeing the most able students the most penalised.

Peter Hamilton, chairman of HMC's Academic Policy Committee, warned that the UK had been "shot in the foot and shackled" by the decline in modern languages and that it risked its global competitive advantage.
He said: "For a number of years now there has been a decline in the major languages.
"The bottom line is, this country is in great danger of not producing any decent linguists at all in the future.
"Picture this – an international school in Beijing, a young lady there with a Korean father, French mother, being educated in English and of course in Mandarin.
Those are the sorts of people that our young children are going to come up against in the future.
"It puts us at a great disadvantage globally...We will just drift into oblivion."
(http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/11915081/German-could-face-extinction-in-schools-heads-warn.html; 08.10.2016)
Both articles point at the connection between the knowledge of foreign lan­guages and well-payed jobs in the international world of business, quoting, in the first text, a ‘business leader’, and, in the second text, a functionary of the HMC, the umbrella organisation of British independent (i.e. private) schools. Indeed, it seems that language learning is increasingly becoming a privilege of schoolchildren whose parents can afford the hefty fees charged by private schools (often more than 30,000 GBP per annum for a good boarding school), as a British Academy report suggests:
Nearly a third of linguists in Higher Education come from independent schools (while only 18% of the post 16 school population attend these schools), and in state schools just 14% of children eligible for free school meals obtained a good GCSE in a foreign language compared to 31% of other state school pupils.
(https://issuu.com/thebritishacademy/docs/state_of_the_nation_summary_web/9; 31.01.2016)
The concern expressed in both articles is less about “understanding another culture” than about young people’s job opportunities (“work”) and the “global competitive advantage” of the British economy. Commenters in these articles seem to agree, even when they discount the necessity to learn foreign language because, as they see it, the global economy speaks English:
The syllabus should focus much more extensively on the ability to function in the wider world, and particularly in business.
The reason English is so widely spoken is because it is regarded as essential for any job involving international business. British people already speak the main international language, English, so the perceived need to learn a second language is much less.
Lovely as Camus and his chums are, as well as modern modules such as 'La Civilisation' or 'La [!] Multiculturisme', young people these days want prospects, opportunities and grades – not "socio/literary" waffle where ICT, economics, maths or science would be more immediately attractive/employable.1
This picture reflects to a large extent what people in Britain say about learning foreign languages. Are the British today more pragmatic than their European counterparts? We should not forget that, in the old days, learning French and even Italian, in addition to Latin and Greek, used to be an essential part of the liberal arts education, provided first by the famous public schools such as Eton and later by Oxford or Cambridge. This exclusive kind of education was target­ed at the jeunesse dorée, the scions of the aristocratic and commercial elites, and also of many aspiring middle-class families, and prepared them for the grand tour and then for finding pleasure in the arts. Particularly for those who disposed of the financial means needed for a life in relative affluence, job opportunities are apparently not at the top of their priorities.

2 Language as I See it

I would like to stress from the outset that teaching foreign languages is not my expertise. As a theoretical linguist, my perspective is that of an outsider. I am interested in the nature of what we call ‘language’, in its origins, in its societal foundation, in its diversity and in what I consider its main feature, namely to enable culture. Without discourse, people would not be able to share and exchange content. There would be neither art nor technology, and certainly no meaningful interaction with others. For it is language that gives us meaning. Culture is what we can only learn by talking about it, it is what goes beyond trial and error or imitation of others. Culture is what sets humans apart from even the smartest mammals, and language is what gives them identity. 

The faculty to interact with people in more than one language is almost ‘natural’. Every youngster in the right environment can acquire it. In former times, people almost everywhere tended to communicate in more than one language. Mul­tilingual societies were the result of migrations as they happened continually over thousands of years all over the world, and are still happening today. It is only when large nation states became the standard in Europe, which happened in the 18th and even more in the 19th century, for instance in Britain, Italy, Germany or Russia, that migration became to be considered an evil and as a threat to the cultural monopoly of the state. Today, most children grow up being told that to speak just one language is the ‘natural’ state of affairs, even if tourism and pervasive migration prove otherwise.

While the ability to acquire language is innate, language is not. It did not fall from heaven. It is an achievement of human society, and like most other achie­vements, the languages we find around the globe have been and are moulded by the people who speak them. There are no universal laws inscribed in the tissue of nature accounting for them. It is us, the speakers, who make up the rules of a language as we go along speaking them. In our time, we are in need of them more than ever. It used to be that a young apprentice could acquire the skills of an apiarist, or of a hunter, almost without speaking, by imitating expe­rienced members of the profession and by their own trials and errors. Even today we can still assemble an Ikea kit by following closely (what looks like) purely iconic instructions. But for learning new tricks on my laptop, I have to speak to the expert or read the manual. The manual, however, does not inform us of the ‘true nature’ of the laptop. It does not mirror reality. It is about what (we think) works.

Our reality is that of the discourse. We talk to confirm old and create new realities confronting us and to assign meaning to them. What psychological theories define as ‘sadness caused by bereavement’ is called in English grief or sorrow or mourning; in German Trauer, Kummer or Gram; and in French chagrin or peine (Teubert 1999). All these words have their own unique meaning, and there is no one-to-one correspondence between any of them. It depends on the context and on us how we translate what we experience as specific occurrences of ‘sadness caused by bereavement’ into one of these words. We experience along the words provided by our mother tongue. Language is, first of all, a social, and only secondarily, a psychological pheno­menon. If it is up to us, collectively, to say what words mean, i.e. what they stand for, they are arbitrary. Collectively we can, for example, adopt or reject a new language use where the word abortion means ‘murder of an unborn baby’. Languages are artefacts, makings of language communities, like melodies or paintings or tools. 

There is no such thing as a lingua perfecta, a perfect language where words have their proper meaning. As Umberto Eco has shown, this myth, which has been around for thousands of years, has no foundation. At the time when humans started to use language, some hundred thousand years ago, appa­rently, there was not, as was disputed in Oxford and Cambridge in Darwin’s days, a universal language, one Ursprache, the mother of all languages. There have always been languages alongside each other. Of course, a language in contact with other languages will be influenced by them. Bilingual speakers will try out translation equivalents for lexical items, some of which will stay while others disappear. When it comes to translation, there is no tertium comparationis helping us to judge what is well translated and what is not. “They call it Schnitzel, we call it Milanesa” (www.mealmai son.com/blog/2015/3/4/ schnitzel-vs-milanesa; 31-01-2016). But while a scaloppina is the common lexical equivalent of a Schnitzel, it is perhaps treated more humanely; not pounded flat until you can see through it, to put it bluntly. So, is it the same thing? In the end, it is the community of bilingual speakers that have the final word. They discuss new translations of Shakespeare or Dostoevsky and also new bilingual dictionaries. Below, I show why they criticise when English racial is translated into German rassisch.

It is issues like these that show what foreign language learning can be about. Looking at how other societies construct their realities makes us aware of the contingency of our own ways of thinking. After all, new ideas emerge only once we compare existing ideas and try to achieve a synthesis overcoming the differences between thesis and antithesis. This kind of language teaching may not only be exacting but also quite expensive. But it helps to turn young people into open-minded reflective citizens well capable, individually as well as collectively, of mulling over their own ideas about themselves and the society in which they live. This is what grammar schools, lycées or Gymnasien have been doing over a very long time, and there is no reason why it cannot be done in comprehensive schools as well.

3 A Multilingual World

In the European context, it was after the creation of the nation state in modern times that one countrywide national language made it unlikely in most circum­stances of daily life to have to communicate with people speaking a different language. But there were exceptions, famously Switzerland, where language(s) fell into the remit of individual cantons. Multilingualism also defined the Habsburg empire where languages existed side by side even in small regions such as the Vojvodina, up to WWI ruled by Hungary, and then by Yugoslavia. Before the dissolution of this country, this autonomous province of Serbia preserved a surprising linguistic diversity. Serbo-Croat, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Romanian, and Ruthenian were all official languages, as had been German before 1945. Some villages were more or less monolingual, but in most of them, as well as in the towns, people speaking different languages lived side by side. While Serbo-Croat and Hungarian dominated, there were primary (and a few secondary) schools for the other languages. In secondary schools, English, French, German and Russian were taught as foreign languages. People had to learn their neighbours’ languages by themselves, to the extent they found it useful. 

In the past, and perhaps still today, there has also been a bilingualism linked to status. For the leisured classes, learning to speak, write and read in a foreign language was, for a long time, an essential part of comprehensive education. These language skills were not primarily needed to conduct one’s business or to organise one’s life. Rather, they were indicators of one’s social position. Up to the late 18th century, the German aristocracy, soon imitated by the ascen­ding bourgeoisie, preferred to converse in French, and also the Russian high society used French still throughout the 19th century. In the first edition of Tols­toy’s War and Peace, there is still an abundance of conversations in French. 

Things are not so different in our modern societies. While nannies and gover­nesses in Russia and in Britain were not labelled slaves, like in Rome, their task was to teach the progeny of the upper and the aspiring classes the languages taken to represent key cultures. In Russia as in Britain, nannies were often sourced from Germany, while governesses tended to be French. Maynard Keynes, for instance, grew up in an academic family with German and French governesses. These days, most Hong Kong families employ Philippine nannies to teach their children American English. These have replaced Malaysian nannies, fluent in the British variety.

4 Why Language Teaching Is Important

To achieve these goals, there are different strategies of learning foreign lan­guages. There is no true unsupervised learning, because some sort of interaction with someone who speaks the target language is always required, if only to correct mistakes. However, often there is no formal teacher, and sometimes perhaps not even a phrasebook. In many cases, this works. For there are different things for which we need the foreign language. Some tourists only need it to order things like drinks and food. Those who want more, for instance to explore Italy on their own, not just on a package tour, need to be able to form simple sentences and to understand responses. So, they will join a dedicated language course, run by a more or less qualified teacher. Those who need to speak a foreign language for professional purposes often rely on target­ed courses, or even one-to-one teaching, offered by (often private) language schools. The real enthusiasts, though, who want to achieve more, like reading and perhaps also writing in a foreign language, often start their language in­struction at school, and, with a good teacher, they get closer to achieving their goal if they keep it up till they leave secondary school. Some of them will even join the language departments at university. It is a saddening thought that in Britain, these departments seem to have become endangered species, and that in other European countries, too, smaller languages are quickly disappearing from the academic courses on offer. 

Europe is proud of its cultural and linguistic diversity. This is something that should be treasured and preserved, and one should not reduce it to the narrow confines of ordering a drink in a bar. Just as a cup of coffee means something different in Italy, France or Germany, the notion of more abstract concepts, such as enlightenment, similarly diverges. Translations are often only a first step to make us understand these differences. It pays to investigate how key concepts such as ‘liberty’, ‘nature’, or ‘power’ are discussed in other languages. Égalité does not mean the same as equality. German Gewalt does not distinguish bet-ween power or force on the one hand and violence on the other. As citizens, we can gain a lot from comparing such concepts in a range of cultural envi­ronments. It is perhaps not very surprising that those in power do not ne­cessarily have an interest in enlightening people over such differences. They have an interest in making us believe that there are no alternatives to the official dogma. What Immanuel Kant asked for in his famous essay on the enlighten­ment was man’s emergence from self-imposed immaturity (German: selbstver­schuldete Unmündigkeit). Someone is unmündig, if they are not responsible for what they say. But are they themselves to blame for it? Kant is not talking about children here, but fully grown people, endowed with rational minds. Do they really prefer to stay without a voice? Should they be blamed if they get things wrong? Their ignorance is probably due to a social environment that prefers them unenlightened. A few months before Kant’s famous essay, the Viennese philosopher Karl Leonhard Reinhold published his widely forgotten essay on the same topic: Gedanken über Aufklärung (Reinhold 1784). There he contends, in the words of Michael Losonsky, that
enlightenment was not just something for the elite, but that the masses (Pöbel) had the capacity for enlightenment themselves. He argues that the ignorant state of most people is not due to nature but their social circumstances. He writes that ‘the ordinary fool is … not born but bred’. (Losonsky 2001: 197)
Accessing texts in another language widens one’s knowledge. But those who could barely read and write in German did not have this option. To give them the option of reading, for instance, the texts of the French champions of enl­ightenment, Diderot, d’Holbach and the other philosophes, it takes a college of thoroughly committed teachers, including foreign language teachers, one does not find at many schools. Language training, whether it is the native language or foreign languages, is the first step towards developing both self-awareness and ‘aboutness’, i.e. intentionality and the art of reflection. 

The ignorance of the common man, the Pöbel, as Reinhold says ironically (see above), then and now, is in the interest of those who wield power over them, whether as worldly rulers or as high priests. Jean-Jacques Rousseau points to the link between language and power:
In all these three revelations, the sacred books are written in languages unknown to the people who believe in them. The Jews no longer understand Hebrew; the Christians neither Greek nor Hebrew; the Turks and Persians understand no Arabic, and even the modern Arabs themselves speak not the language of Mahomet. Is not this a very simple manner of instructing mankind, by talking to them always in a language which they do not comprehend? But these books, it will be said, are translated; a most unsatisfactory answer, indeed! Who can assure me that they are translated faithfully, or that it is even possible they should be so? Who can give me a sufficient reason why God, when he hath a mind to speak to mankind, should stand in need of an interpreter? (Rousseau 2009: 469)
As will become clear, I think that the kind of language learning that can be provided by more ambitious schools should not only help us to become acquainted with other cultures and other ways of talking, but also to show us new perspectives of how things can be looked at, thus liberating us from the prison of our native language. The British grammar school, the French lycée, the German Gymnasium and their equivalents in other countries have tra­ditionally understood as their task to teach foreign languages less for plain usefulness but as an integral part of a liberal arts education – liberal because it should set the pupils’ minds free to develop their own ideas. The question I will discuss over the next pages is the extent to which this still holds for today. How do the more prestigious secondary schools advertise the language instruction they offer? Why should their pupils learn foreign languages? I will then analyse the language policy pursued by Luxembourg, a tiny country proud of its multilingualism, and by the small German state, Saarland, which has recently decided to emulate Luxembourg and to become wholly bilingual. First, however, I want to show how the comparison of changing language practices in different languages can keep us from blindly accepting the realities confronting us in discourse.

5 A Linguistic Regression: ‘Race’ in English and German

In the discussion group pupils said that they will make an effort to pacify racial tensions in the school.
In der Diskussion äußerten SchülerInnen, dass sie Anstrengungen unternähmen, um ethnische Spannungen in der Schule zu befrieden.
(http://www.linguee.com/english-german/searchsource=auto&query=racial+ten sions; 31.01.2016)
Collins German-English / English German Dictionary (1999: 1704) tells us that German Rasse is the obvious equivalent of English race. Both words are derived from Italian razza, and all three words seem to share, as one of their senses, the meaning given in Collins English dictionary (1998: 1327) a group of people of common ancestry, distinguished from others by physical characteristics, such as hair type, colour of eyes and skin, stature etc. Accord­ing to Wikipedia, ‘race’ is a relatively modern concept, a fruit of the scientific revolution with its predilection for taxonomy and its links with colonia­lism and empire-building (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_(human_categorization; 31-01-2016). (The definition given in the East German Handwörterbuch der deutschen Gegenwartssprache (1984: 738) still echoes this seemingly scientific factuality: “große Gruppe von Menschen mit derselben charakteristi­schen Kombination normaler erblicher Körpermerkmale, deren Dominanz, Heraus­bildung auf ursprünglich gemeinsame geographische Herkunft zurückzuführen ist [large group of people with the same characteristic combination of normal hereditary physiological features whose dominance, emergence lead back to an initially common origin; Translation by W.T.]“ But how real is ‘race’? Is race or Rasse a scientific term that stands for something that really exists? Or is it just a noun like unicorn, standing for an imagined but not real entity? 

While English globally and British English enjoy a largely uninterrupted continui­ty over the last two hundred years, the Nazi regime caused something like a rupture of the German language. Certain words and phrases have become implicated in the crimes of the Third Reich to such an extent that they became tabooed (not immediately, but rather gradually) in the post-war era. Rasse is, of course, one of these words, and thus, it has ceased to be the unproblematic equivalent of race. In 2005, Siegfried Jäger gave a talk on ’Rasse’ und aktuelle Ersatzbegriffe in der deutschen Gegenwarts-Gesellschaft [‘Race’ and its current replacements in contemporary German]”, referring to Colette Guillaumin’s foundational research on racism and the changing conceptualisations of race. Jäger analyses how Rasse is still used in law (e.g. in the German Basic Law [constitution], which explicitly outlaws discrimination on the basis of race), often controversially in Internet blogs and also in certain questionable or spurious scientific discourses, while it seems to be commonly avoided not only in political statements but also in media discourses and ap­parently also in everyday life.2

Thus, translators encounter a problem when rendering contemporary English texts including the words race and racial into German. According to the evidence given by Linguee (http://www.linguee.com/english-german/translation/ race.html; 31.01.2016), Rasse is the standard equivalent (but not the only one) whenever the focus is on ruling out discrimination, which is the case in almost all citations. But there is one example which avoids it, by rendering race as Hautfarbe: “keine Unterschiede nach Hautfarbe, Staatsange­hörigkeit, Volks­zugehörigkeit, Religion, Geschlecht“ for “no distinctions of race, nationa­lity, colour, religion, sex.”3 It is different, though, when it comes to translating racial. Here, the taboo seems to be much stronger. In many contexts, we find ras­sistisch [‘racist’], which is obviously an act of internalised censorship. We also find phrases like rassisch motiviert, which make little sense but express a certain uneasiness. And there is a tendency to use the politically seemingly more correct ethnic. Here are some examples, again gleaned from Linguee:

  • the racial bias of the capitalist state: die rassistische Ausrichtung des kapitalistischen Staates
  • training in awareness of racial prejudice: Sensibilisierung für rassistische Vorurteile
  • racial violence and abuse: rassistisch motivierte Gewalt und Missbrauch
  • social, racial and ethnic conflicts: soziale, rassische und ethnische Konflikte
  • racial profiling of an ethnic minority: die Erstellung ethnischer Profile einer Minderheit
  • the practice of „racial profiling“: die Praxis des „racial profiling“

Translating the title of the EU Racial Equality Directive causes translators quite a headache. We find, for instance:

  • Richtlinie zur Gleichbehandlung
  • Richtlinie zur Gleichbehandlung ohne Unterschied der Rasse
  • Antirassismusrichtlinie
  • Richtlinie zur Gleichbehandlung ohne Unterschied der ethnischen Herkunft
  • Richtlinie zur Gleichbehandlung der Rassen
  • Rassendiskriminierungsrichtlinie [!]

Now it is not as if English were not adjusting to the Zeitgeist, as well. In the language of The Daily Telegraph, racial is losing some of its territory to ethnic. In the year 2004 racial occurs in 318 and ethnic in 391 articles, roughly a 3:4 ratio. Ten years later the figures are 495 (racial) and 921 (ethnic), roughly a 4:9 ratio (Daily Telegraph Archive; www.telegraph.co.uk/archive/; 31.01.2016) To what extent the Telegraph evidence mirrors public discourse in general is hard to make out. But it seems that these days, at least people in official functions try not to refer to race. In a short speech the former Home Secretary and present Prime Minister Theresa May gave at the National Black Policing Association’s conference on 22 October 2015, she carefully avoided race racial, talking instead about:

  • men and women of all backgrounds
  • black and ethnic minority officers
  • Black or Ethnic Minority backgrounds
  • ethnic minority background (3)
  • a clear focus on diversity and equality
  • under-represented groups in policing
  • BME background4

Indeed, Google evidence for 2015 shows that BME (black and minority ethnic) is now the politically correct formula (87 hits for ‘racially diverse backgrounds’ compared to 303 hits for ‘BME backgrounds; 31.01.2016’).

The impetus to such a study as the one presented here (which, though time-consuming, can be easily carried out without any technical apparatus) comes from comparing native to target language. It makes pupils aware that concepts such as race, ethnicity, nation or tribe are not pointers to an unquestioned reality but are discourse constructs, differing from culture to culture and subject changes over time. For me, such comparisons show why teaching foreign lan­guages is important: they offer different perspectives helping us to form our own view on our natural, social and spiritual reality.

6 How Schools Promote Foreign Languages

The goals of much foreign language teaching offered by state schools are more modest. They do not aim for gaining new insights into the cultural conditionality of the conditio humana. What pupils learn is, first of all, a small set of phrases and grammatical tools enabling them to express their needs and to acquire the information which they are looking for. In many countries, there are straight­forward language schools, even kindergartens, not all of them private, speciali­sing in a wider language programme, and they are in great demand by parents with higher aspirations for their children. And then, there are those very prestigious schools, public and private, catering parents who think their off­spring deserve only the best. Some of these schools tell us on their websites about their language programmes and provide an interesting range of argu­ments for learning foreign languages. I will present some examples, two for schools in Germany and three for schools in Britain, illustrating this picture. 

My first case, however, is the French-German tier of the new Oberrhein-Gymnasium in Weil am Rhein, close to the French and the Swiss border. As a state school, it is hardly elitist, drawing its pupils mostly from the aspiring middle classes. What is special about this tier is that certain subjects (e.g. geography, history, social studies) are taught in French. It is somewhat surprising to see this new school investing in French at a time when most other schools along the Rhine have given up this focus, which had become widespread after the Franco-German rapprochement in the sixties. For years now, the numbers of French pupils learning German and of German pupils learning French have been in decline. Here are some of the arguments used to advertise this bilingual tier (http://www.oberrhein-gymnasium.eu/bilingualer-zug; 31.01.2016) (Transla­tions: W.T.):

Die Schülerinnen und Schüler sind … am Ende der Schullaufbahn nahezu zweispraching. [‘The pupils will be close to bilingual at the end of the curriculum’.]
Mit ihrer erworbenen interkulturellen Kompetenz können sie Mittler zwischen den zwei Kulturen sein. [‘With their attained intercultural proficiency they can become mediators between both cultures‘.]
Pluspunkt bei Bewerbungen um eine Ausbildungsstelle oder einen Arbeitsplatz, insbesondere in der Rheinschiene. [‘Advantage in an application for an apprenticeship or a position, particularly along the Rhine‘.]
Zweisprachingkeit als berufliche Qualifikation für Führungspositionen in einem sich stetig enger verflechtenden Europa mit Frankreich als unserem wichtigsten Handelspartner. [‘Bilingualism as job qualification for management positions in an ever closer collaborating Europe with France as our main trading partner‘.]
In a league of its own, we find the famous elitist boarding school Schloss Salem, which, back in 1933, hosted Prince Philip among its boarders. It is a private school whose pupils, many of them from other countries, are drawn mostly from the upper middle class and above. Their secondary school is called Europäisches Gymnasium. This is how they describe their language pro­gramme:
Absolventen des Europäischen Gymnasiums erweitern ihr Sprachenportfolio, sie erwerben eine zusätzliche Qualifikation für die Bewerbung um Studienplätze, vor allem jedoch gewinnen sie einen weiten Horizont des Denkens, der ihnen Orien­tierung im persönlichen und im gesellschaftlichen Leben gibt. Über den Dialog mit Antigone und Dido, mit Odysseus und Don Quixote, mit Hamlet und Ödipus, mit Platon, Shakespeare und Sophokles, mit Dante, Cervantes oder Molière gehen sie über einen bloß zeitgebundenen Nutzen von Fertigkeiten und Wissen hinaus, sie werden sich ihrer Identität als Europäer bewusst und können so auch anders­artigen Kulturen bewusst und verständnisvoll gegenübertreten.
(https://www.schule-schloss-salem.de/internationale-schule-internat/schulisches-konzept/europaeisches-gymnasium.html; 08-10-2016)
[Translation provided on the school’s English webpage:] ‘Those who complete the European Grammar School extend their language portfolio and acquire an additional qualification for their application for a place at university; but first and foremost, they broaden their horizon of thinking, which serves as an orientation for them both in their private and social lives. Through the dialogue with Antigone and Dido, with Odysseus and Don Quixote, with Hamlet and Oedipus, with Platon, Shakespeare and Sophocles, with Dante, Cervantes or Molière they acquire a much greater benefit than simply a mere 'temporary' use of skills and knowledge. They become conscious of their identity as a European and as a result, they are also able to confront differing cultures with a certain awareness and under­standing.(https://www.schule-schloss-salem.de/en/school/educational-profile/european-grammar-school.html; 08-01-2016)

It seems that for pupils attending Schloss Salem, finding a job in the upper management of international financial or commercial institutions is the least of their worries. Much of the text describes the paradigm of the German Bildungs­bürgertum (educated bourgeoisie) of the 19th century, similar to, but not quite the same as British Victorian values. Perhaps it is best to read this agenda as an early studium generale for whatever courses these young people will take at the renowned universities of their choice. The contrast to the Oberrhein Gymnasium’s modest promise of an apprenticeship could hardly be more pro­nounced. 

While I am aware there are not a few state-run grammar schools, as well as comprehensives in Britain, attracting schoolchildren from less elevated back­grounds to foreign languages and teaching them very successfully on a high level, they seem to be the exception rather than the rule. This is why I put my focus on the mission statements of some highly reputed private schools in Britain, to complement the German picture. I have selected schools which, on their websites, stress more than the others the arguments for language learn­ing.

First comes the Cardiff Sixth Form College, ranked second among British schools:
The ability to speak another language is a definite asset. Modern foreign languages are commonly used in the world of commerce, international business, and diplomacy, the world of art, financial services, the media, tourism and technology. (http://www.ccoex.com/courses.php?id=48; 08.10.2016)
Then there is St. Paul’s Girls’ School Hammersmith, ranked third:
The global village doesn’t mean that everyone will speak English; it means that we have more knowledge about other countries and cultures than ever before. So, learning other languages isn’t just about communicating information. It’s the only way to understand how other cultures think and express themselves. As well as grammar and vocabulary, our language teaching draws on history, geography, politics, literature and film. In case that’s not enough of an incentive, whichever career you move on to, people with foreign language skills will always stand out compared to people without them.
(http://spgs.org/academic/departments/modern-languages/; 31.01.2016)
As the third school, I have selected the catholic London Oratory School, which, albeit not ranked under the top ten schools, enjoys a high reputation, evidenced by the fact that Tony Blair sent his sons there. The reason for this choice is that their foreign languages agenda is, word for word, copied from the 2007 National Curriculum, a text also popular with many other private schools. There we read:
Languages are part of the cultural richness of our society and the world in which we live and work. Learning languages contributes to mutual understanding, a sense of global citizenship and personal fulfilment. Pupils learn to appreciate different countries, cultures, communities and people. By making comparisons, they gain insight into their own culture and society. The ability to understand and communicate in another language is a lifelong skill for education, employment and leisure in this country and throughout the world […] They explore the similarities and differences between other languages and English and learn how language can be manipulated and applied in different ways. The development of communication skills, together with understanding of the structure of language, will lay the foundations for future study of other languages and support the development of literacy skills in a pupil’s own language […].

(http://www.london-oratory.org/modern-foreign-languages/65.html; 31.01.2016)
There are some interesting differences. The Cardiff Sixth Form College, found­ed just twelve years ago, is a boarding school charging ca. 35,000 GBP per annum. It appeals to modern parents looking for a school preparing their children for the best jobs in the global economy. The St. Paul’s Girls’ School, on the other hand, a day school charging above 7,000 GBP, has a much longer history, visible in its promotional text which prioritises the more traditional values of cultural diversity (“to understand how other cultures think and express themselves”). Perhaps job opportunities for the girls attending this school are equally important as a rich social life and the appreciation of the arts. Con­sidering the dearth of foreign language teaching at most state schools, the National Curriculum mission statement looks rather ambitious. Foreign lan­guages, we are told, offer insights into cultural diversity, into the working of language in general, gains in literacy skills also in one’s native language, and even some protection against the manipulative force of language, thus coming very close to my own thoughts. Foreign languages assure ‘personal fulfilment’ in ‘employment and leisure in this country and throughout the world’, and they confer ‘global citizenship’. Job opportunities are strikingly underplayed.

Overall there seem to be only minor differences between the German and the British . They all try to find a compromise between traditional educa­tional values, like the appreciation of different cultures and their expression in literature or the awareness of the working of language as the core medium to share and exchange content, and, on the other hand, the requirements of find­ing a place in our modern market-dominated society. There is, however, one key difference between British and continental aspirations. Britain sees herself as a global player, while in the minds of many Britons, continental Europe appears a bit provincial. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the citation from the 2007 National Curriculum does not mention Europe once. Britain does not share this admittedly elusive concept of a European identity, while on the continent, this idea of Europe has marked, for dozens of years, almost any address of an academic functionary at the opening of an international conference. 

What is, with one exception, absent from Britain (and, interestingly, also largely from France) are European schools. These sometimes exist quite abundantly in many (mostly) western European countries and are organised in a number of different structures. Their aim is to implement a common European language policy, based on the principle that
Languages are an important priority for the EU. Language is an integral part of our identity and the most direct expression of culture. In Europe, linguistic diversity is a fact of life. In an EU founded on ‘unity in diversity’, the ability to communicate in several languages is a must for individuals, organisations and companies alike. (http://www.europarl.europa.eu/atyourservice/en/displayFtu.html?ftuId=FTU_5.13.6.html; 31.01.2016)
The Schola Europea framework lists 14 (state run or state-sponsored) schools in seven countries, with 28,000 pupils enrolled. These are some of their objectives:
  • to give pupils confidence in their own cultural identity – the bedrock for their development as European citizens;
  • to encourage a European and global perspective overall and particularly in the study of the human sciences;
  • to encourage creativity in music and the plastic arts and an appreciation of all that is best in a common European artistic heritage;
  • to foster tolerance, co-operation, communication and concern for others throughout the school community and beyond;
  • to cultivate pupils’ personal, social and academic development and to prepare them for the next stage of education.
(http://www.eursc.eu/index.php?id=2; 31.01.2016)
In addition, there are national initiatives. The Bundes-Netzwerk Europaschule lists 541 state schools on their webpage (http://www.eursc.eu/index.php?id=2; 31-01-2016). The mission statement for the over 100 Europaschulen in Lower Saxony (Germany) has this to say, in the jargon of bureaucrats who do not know what to say (https://www.landesschulbehoerde-niedersachsen.de/bu/schu -len/ppwk/europa/europaschule-in-niedersachsen; 31-01-2016) (Translations by W.T.):
Europaschulen in Niedersachsen vermitteln ihren Schülerinnen und Schülern ein umfassendes Wissen über Europa und bieten vielfältig Möglichkeiten, Europakom­petenzen zu entwickeln sowie die Mehrsprachigkeit zu stärken.

[‘Europaschulen in Lower Saxony teach their pupils comprehensive knowledge on Europe and offer many ways to develop European competences and to strengthen multilingualism.’]

Das Schulprogramm ist dementsprechend Europa-orientiert ausgerichtet. Die Europaschulen fühlen sich dem Europagedanken in besonderer Weise verpflichtet und erfüllen bestimmte Kriterien nachweislich, sodass sie offiziell den Titel ‘Euro­paschule in Niedersachsen‘ tragen dürfen.

[‘Consequently, the school programme is geared towards Europe. They are especially committed to the idea of Europe and fulfil certain criteria allowing them to call themselves “Europaschule in Lower Saxony”’.]

Die Europaschulen in Niedersachsen haben das Ziel, Kenntnisse über Europa und europäische Institutionen zu fördern, die aktive Teilhabe an der Unionsbür­gerschaft sowie die Mehrsprachigkeit zu stärken und in besonderem Maße die Entwicklung interkultureller Kompetenzen zu unterstützen.

[’The Europaschulen in Lower Saxony aim to further knowledge about Europe and European institutions, to strengthen active participation in European citizenship and multilinguality and to strongly support the development of intercultural competences'.]
Similar kinds of Europaschulen are popular in many European countries. Unfor­tunately, this does not mean that the knowledge of foreign European languages, other than English, will spread among the younger generation. After the canton of Zürich decided to make English the first foreign language and assigned French to an unloved second place, one hears increasingly of stories of German Swiss young people conversing in English with their comrades in the Suisse Romande. No doubt this is even more the case for young people elsewhere in Europe. There are exceptions, though.

7 A Language Policy of Triglossia

Triglossia exists in a region where ideally all people are trilingual and commu­nication between them takes place in any of the languages according to domain and situation, with code-switching being a major feature. Luxembourg is a country perfecting its state as a triglossic nation, with Lëtzebuergesch (German ‘Letzeburgisch’; English ‘Luxembourgish’; a Moselle-Franconian dialect) being the language of national identity. It was due to the trauma of the German occu­pation during WWII that, after the war, what used to be a dialect was elevated to the status of a written language, with its own radio and TV pro­grammes and an, albeit still small, growing literary presence. However, Luxembourgish is more used in oral communication, especially among family and friends. In more formal or elevated situations, French is the language of choice. Newspapers are in French and German, and the local population often turn to German and French radio and TV stations, and read books and magazines in German and French.

Obviously, the language policy behind the maintenance of such a triglossic situation puts high demands on language teaching. This is how this model is supposed to work.
No Luxembourger speaks just one language in the course of the day! Alternating languages is an art in which Luxembourgers excel, taking an idea from one language and an expression from another at will. (http://www.luxembourg.public.lu/en/le-grand-duche-se-presente/langues/utilisation -langues/ecole/index.html; 31.01.2016)
The Grand Duchy's school system places considerable emphasis on language teaching. All children learn Luxembourgish, German, French and English. At fundamental school, pupils learn to read and write in German. A wide range of European and international schools are available for the children of foreign residents:
  • Fundamental education

In early childhood education and during the two years of compulsory pre-school education, teachers use Luxembourgish as much as possible when speaking to their pupils.

German is taught from the age of 6 years onwards, which means that when children learn to read and write, it is in German.

  • Secondary education

German is the teaching language in the first years of general secondary education and throughout technical secondary education.

In general secondary education, however, French is the main language from the fourth year of study onwards.

English is a compulsory subject at both types of secondary schools. General secondary school pupils may also choose to add Latin, Spanish or Italian.

  • Language learning over the entire school career accounts for 50% of the curriculum.

Almost 20% of the population claim they also use English at the workplace or in other situations. Of course, not every Luxembourg citizen or foreigner living in Luxembourg is quadrilingual. But the example of this small country in the heart of Europe demonstrates that the competent use of more than one language does not have to be considered exceptional. Yet it is true that to achieve and maintain such a situation in which most people learn to competently use three or four languages requires an unusual investment in language teaching, per­haps at the expense of other subjects.

Last year, the small German state of Saarland, bordering on France and Luxembourg, has decided to emulate Luxembourg, inspired, no doubt, by the economic success of its small neighbour. A new strategic paper states:
Vom Vorbild Luxemburg zu lernen, heißt zu verstehen, dass die Präsenz einer Sprache im öffentlichen Raum, und damit die dauerhafte Begegnung des Bürgers als Sprachenlerner mit einer Sprache, die nicht seine Muttersprache ist, eine wesentliche Bedeutung für den Lernerfolg ist. Dies ist, wie man in Luxemburg sieht, dann besonders erfogreich, wenn die Bürger – unabhängig von ihrem Alter – tagtäglich in einem mehrsprachigen Raum leben und arbeiten. [...] Dies steht nicht im Widerspruch der Erfordernis zur Vermittlung englischer Sprachkenntnisse auf hohem Niveau in saarländischen Schulen, im Gegenteil – es öffnet den Raum für das Erlernen von Englisch und weiteren Fremdsprachen.

[‘To learn from the Luxembourg model means to understand that the presence of a language in the public sphere, i.e. the permanent encounter of a language which is not their native language is essential for a positive outcome. This strategy is, as Luxembourg shows, especially successful if the people – regardless of their age – live and work day by day in a multilingual space. [...] This does not contradict the necessity to teach English at a high level – quite the opposite, it opens the space for learning English and further foreign languages.’ Translation by W.T.] (http://www.saarland.de/dokumente/res_stk/D_Eckpunkte_Frankreich-Strategie_ 210114. pdf; 08-10-2016)
Such a strategy needs a long-term commitment. The date proposed for achie­ving such a bilingual outcome is 2043. As Luxembourg shows, there is quite a gap between the ideal of a full trilingual or quadrilingual population and the more mundane reality of a rather limited linguistic competence, and this will be even more the case for Saarland with its, as it stands today, almost exclusively German-speaking population, apart from the growing number of migrants. If, as in Luxembourg, up to 50% of the curriculum is devoted to teaching languages, one can ask if such a strategy would ever be cost-effective, from an economic perspective. 

There are, as frequently pointed out, alternatives, for instance to accept English as the European lingua franca. The sociologist Jürgen Gerhards is one of many endorsing this idea. These are some of his arguments:
  • The current EU policy of encouraging learning different foreign languages will not significantly improve communication between the citizens of Europe;
  • To not only encourage English language acquisition but simultaneously that of other foreign languages as well is unrealistic, given the enormous efforts needed to learn a foreign language;
  • A common foreign language would strengthen trust among the European citizens;
  • It is quite an exaggeration that English as the common lingua franca threatens Europe’s linguistic and cultural diversity;
  • Encouraging and promoting English as a lingua franca is not associated with high costs but can be easily realised.


arbeits­papiere/bsse_32.html; 31-01-2015)
Now that Britain has voted to leave the EU, this solution should have the added charm that, just like Latin, a thousand years ago, English would be an almost neutral lingua franca, not being the national language of any country on the continent, though, of course, spoken widely in Ireland. Latin was the language of the clergy, academics and also the top administrators. Those who were at the receiving end of the power of state or Church were left in a stupor of ignorance. English as the common European language also brings to mind Rousseau’s quip quoted above.
Is not this a very simple manner of instructing mankind, by talking to them always in a language which they do not comprehend? (Rousseau 2008: 303)
For in spite of all Luxembourgish ambitions, not everyone will achieve a high level of linguistic competence in a second language. Such an egalitarian out­come, one can surmise, would also not necessarily be in the interest of those who send their scions to elite schools to achieve results which, alongside with networking, will facilitate their ascent into top positions. What certainly is desirable, in terms of global markets, is a workforce capable of following simple instructions, but without a further reaching communicative competence that would allow them to reflect on the different ways of looking at things and choos­ing the one serving their interests best.

8 Some Concluding Thoughts

As I said in the beginning, how to teach languages depends very much on the goals to be achieved. Tourists need not much more than the phrases keeping themselves from getting lost abroad. Mercenaries have to understand the orders of their officers. Shop assistants must learn the register used by custo­mers. However, to learn why English racial translates into German ethnisch, and not rassisch, and why French civilisation du vin translates into German Weinkultur, and that French esprit is not quite the same as English mind, we need teachers who themselves have learned to reflect on language. Where will they be found?

For someone whose roots are in this strange place called Mitteleuropa, there is also this other aspect: the elusive European identity, surviving in spite of no dearth of ethnic, religious and ideological acrimony. Its basis are two millennia of a diverse cultural and intellectual history, highly interlinked and cross-fertilizing. Before the French Revolution, Central Europe also included Britain. It was only in its aftermath that the continental and the Anglo-Saxon worlds began to drift apart. Ever since, the more introverted, Eurocentric mindset on the continent finds itself in contrast with the more global outlook of Britons and Americans.

The differences between the more speculative continental and the more practical Anglo-Saxon frame of mind might also have had consequences for school-level foreign language teaching. While on the continent, foreign lan­guage teaching was and largely still is teaching foreign languages to pupils by teachers sharing the same native language, in the British empire, there was a strong demand for teaching English as a foreign language, which has led to a strategy of teaching the target language (L2) by (often monolingual) English teachers, using English as the sole language of instruction. Comparing and contrasting native and the target language may be a European rather than a British, and Vivian Cook is right when he comments:
Virtually all [British] language teaching methods since the 1880s have insisted that teaching techniques should not rely on the L1 [native language]. (Cook 1999: 201)
The difference between what he calls the intralingual and the interlingual approaches is, in his words, that the former “seem to convey the message that the students should aim at L2 use that is unrelated to the L1”, while the latter “see the student as an intercultural speaker […], not an imitation L2 user” (Cook 1999: 202).

The intralingual facilitates the teaching of English as a foreign language. For a very long time, every year there have been legions of young British university graduates spending several years, teaching what long has been a global language to the natives in distant shores, in countries whose language(s) they are not required to speak. It is astounding to see that, in spite of this policy, these teachers more often than not display great initiative in immersing themselves in the culture of their host country.

Recently the London Review of Books published a fascinating autobiographical piece by the late Benedict Anderson, author of the seminal Imagined Communities, titled Frameworks of comparisons, in which he refers to an early publication of his, inspired by Clifford Geertz, The idea of power in Javanese culture. There Anderson contends that the Javanese, being “as rational as anyone else,” have “no abstract concept of power as a relationship strictly between human beings.” Instead, they have “a clear concept of ‘concrete’ power, a kind of mana [unfathomable life force] immanent in the cosmos, and detectable in magical objects, spirits and human beings.” (Anderson 2016: 17). This puts a big question mark to Michel Foucault’s claim that power is a uni­versal part of relationships between people, existing regardless of whether there is a concept of power in someone’s discourse or not. It is a mistake to take categories of one’s discourse, even basic ones, for granted. Is there, for instance, really such a thing as guilt feelings when people have no word for it and do not talk about them? To compare what people say about their culture is, for Anderson, “not a method or even an academic technique; rather, it is a discursive strategy” (Anderson 2016: 18). Cultural anthropology is not a science; it is part of the humanities, and as such, it concerns us all. What is specific for a particular culture is what has been said about it. This is what we have to take in whenever we want to compare ‘their’ culture to ‘ours’. Learning foreign languages contrastively enables us to take actively part in this never-ending dialogue between ‘them’ and ‘us’.


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1 The links to these three comments are no longer accessible online.
2 http://www.diss-duisburg.de/Internetbibliothek/Artikel/sjaeger-rasseersatzbegriffe. htm; 31.05.2016)
3 http://www.linguee.de/deutschenglisch/uebersetzung/keine+unterschiede+geschlecht.html; 31.01.2016)
4 Home Office and the Rt Hon Theresa May MP: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/ home-secretary-speech-at-nbpa-conference)