When I was deciding what to study at university, lots of people had an opinion. Especially when I announced that I was applying for German Studies. This is the way of the world. Just as every English Lit student gets asked what exactly they’re going to do with their degree, language students get asked if they’re going to become a teacher. If you ask me if I want to be a teacher, you will get a response that sounds as if I’ve had to say it many times. That’s because I have had to answer that question a lot. I will, however, be polite while repeating the words, because I don’t mind you thinking the only thing I can do with my degree is teach. Even when you bring out the old “those who can’t do, teach” joke that makes me hope you step in Lego. Because while it is annoying, there are other questions, worse questions that you could have asked.
So I’d like to go over a few things in response to three questions I got asked an awful lot when I said I was going to study German by people who for the most part should have known better.
German? We fought and won the war so we didn’t have to speak German.
Ah, the amount of times this has been said to me, jokingly or otherwise. Firstly, this is almost always said by someone not old enough to remember World War Two, never mind actually fighting in it. Secondly, I’m fairly sure Britain got involved in World War Two because Hitler invaded Poland and Poland was our ally. Believe me, I’ve written one or two essays on the subject. I’m also fairly sure that the point of WW2 was to defeat a dictator who was hell bent on world domination, via genocide and enslavement. As far as I’m aware, Chamberlain never sat down and went “By Jove, if we don’t do something, we’ll end up speaking a language that has three genders. The English will never cope with that. To war we go.”
But you’re seriously trying to invalidate my degree and ability to, you know, speak a foreign language, based on a war that ended nearly 70 years ago. And if you’re going to say you shouldn’t learn the language of a country who invaded (not that Hitler ever quite made it to the UK), there’s a huge number of countries who, by that logic, should not be learning English. Which brings me onto the next question.
A foreign language? But everyone speaks English.
Yes, a lot of people do speak English, don’t they? And you know they acquired that skill? By learning a foreign language. Just like I’m doing.
Many people do learn English as a second language. But that means when you, dear monolingual sceptic, want to talk to someone whose native language is not English, you’re relying on the fact that they’ve wanted to talk to you enough to put effort into learning a foreign language when you couldn’t be bothered. And you have to hope that they’re fluent enough to understand everything you say. I’m currently living in Germany, a country where it is not uncommon for people to have studied English for at least eight years. The number of times I have had to modify my English or indeed switch back into German because all I’m getting in response are blank looks is huge. Which brings me on to the third and worst question.
You know that if you study German you’ll have to live in Germany for a year, right? Are you sure you want to do that? Aren’t they all Nazis?
Can the English let go of this stereotype now? Like, seriously, put down the “all Germans are Nazis” stereotype and walk away. It’s ridiculous that it still endures. Firstly, at no point in Germany’s history has every single German been a Nazi. That’s like saying that while Tony Blair was in power, everyone in the UK was Labour. (Yes, my British political references are a little behind the times. So are your dumb stereotypes of Germans. Guess we’re even.) Secondly, the end of WW2 was nearly 70 years ago. Any idea what’s happened in Germany since then? Well, for one thing, the East was ruled by the Soviet Union for forty years, and yet no-one ever calls the Germans communists. Not that they should. But it would at least be a more recent ridiculous stereotype.
The Germans are all Nazis in the same way that the English are all colonialist, slave trade perpetuating scumbags. It’s stupid and ignorant to base your opinion of a country on their history. Guess what? In the same way that the English alive today aren’t responsible for, say, the crusades, or the mass murder that furthered the British Empire, the vast majority of Germans weren’t around during WW2. Yes, there is a neo-Nazi movement, but they’re viewed the same way in Germany that the BNP are viewed in England. Actually, possibly worse if the graffiti I’ve seen in Germany is anything to go by.
Before you get too bent out of shape, you can keep the “Germans are efficient” stereotype. You can keep the “Germans are punctual” stereotype. You can even keep the “Germans all wear Lederhosen” stereotype, despite that being a Bavarian thing, rather than a nationwide thing. But I will fight you to the death before I let you tell me one more time that all Germans are Nazis.