‘Room for improvement’ in EU’s use of German

There is still room for improvement regarding the number of documents translated into German by the European institutions, despite recent growth in the number of German EU officials using their native language professionally, Margareta Hauschild, director of the Goethe-Institut Belgien in Brussels, told EURACTIV in an interview.

German ranks alongside English and French as an official working language of the EU institutions, but it is not used as widely as some observers would like, a situation which Hauschild puts down to history. 

“German officials have […] been quite reluctant, for obvious historical reasons, to push the German language at EU level. Instead, they preferred to show that they were able to speak other languages, mostly English,” she said. 

But the culture boss believes this situation has now changed. “German officials have been promoting the use of German as a working language of the EU for the past decade,” and “more German officials now speak German in public”. 

Last December, MEPs called on the European Council to boost the use of German and other languages on its websites, including those of EU presidencies (EURACTIV 02/12/2008). 

Indeed, “there is still room for improvement regarding the number of EU documents translated into German, including web pages,” she said, describing the European Parliament as “the role model in comparison to the Council and the Commission when it comes to promoting a multilingual Europe”. 

Assessing the performance of EU Multilingualism Commissioner Leonard Orban as “very good” as he comes to the end of his first mandate, Hauschild nevertheless stressed there were “still many tasks ahead” for the next Commission. 

“Multilingualism has yet to be brought closer to all European citizens,” she said, claiming that foreign languages are as important as ICT skills. Hauschild wants multilingualism to be brought into the classroom “at all levels of education,” and in history, literature and social studies. 

Unlike France, which boasts the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, there is no international body to represent German-speaking countries abroad, meaning the task lies with organisations like the Goethe-Institut: a difference that Hauschild puts down to the two countries’ “quite different historical backgrounds”. 

“We want to convince people that it matters to learn German in today’s Europe,” she said, insisting that knowledge of her native language is a professional asset. “You’ll have more chances on the job market if you can communicate in the language which is spoken as mother tongue by 100 million Europeans and which is taught as the second foreign language in EU countries after English.” 

Thus, “the German Permanent Representation [to the EU], the Goethe-Institut and many others, including German employees in the European institutions, are working on improving the use of German” in EU circles, she added. 

To read the interview in full, please click here

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