Dienstag, 23. Oktober 2012

Barriers to Inclusion, Diversity and Integration in Germany:

Part 1: the Unforgiving German Language
Us Germans seem to be very proud that our language is such a difficult, unforgiving, and exclusive one; a fact we like to emphasize. The exclusivity of our language gives the “native speakers” a heads up, some sense of superiority toward someone who is not a native German speaker. We often take the liberty to correct non-native speakers while they are speaking; putting ourselves in an undeserved and inappropriate position of superiority, discouraging the other person from learning the language, and speaking freely. Taking the liberty to correct someone is patronizing and considered extremely rude in many cultures.

The correcting and cultural and linguistic exclusivity make it extremely difficult to learn the German language, let alone feel comfortable speaking it. It can be very alienating to have one's speech constantly corrected. It most likely will result in a decrease in interest in learning the language altogether.
It is easier, for example, to learn American English as most people in the USA, make an attempt to understand what the other person is saying instead of concentrating on the mistakes and taking the liberty to fix them. An expectation of speaking “perfect English” is rather rare. Who speaks a language perfectly in the first place?

Many of us do not speak or write very well in our own language. Our mistakes, however, are judged by different standards than the mistakes of non-native speakers. Language mistakes made by us are “just” language mistakes whereas, mistakes made by minorities are a confirmation of stereotypes, their inability to assimilate, to learn, and integrate into our society.  
Learning German is made even more difficult by our “requirement” of speaking German without an accent. In spite of the fact that most of us have “accents“ or speak a dialect ourselves, a foreign accent is not desirable; making the language even more exclusive. An accent in reality does not have anything to do with how well someone manages a language. Accents should be encouraged as they are a reflection of someone’s identity, not the inability to speak or write in a language. The desire for minorities to speak German accent-free reflects our desire for assimilation versus encouraging and celebrating diversity.

German is a difficult language, among other, due to a severe grammatical complexity, some lack of logic, and a lack of diverse vocabulary. Many words are driven from a word with the same root, making the language extremely confusing to non-native speakers. Here is an example: the word ziehen (to pull) is ascribed to various words: ausziehen (take off or move out), einziehen (i.e. move in), durchziehen (i.e. pull through), entziehen (i.e. deprive) and the list goes on. The articles (der, die, das) do not follow much logic either. A girl (das Mädchen) is, for example, "neutral" whereas a table is "male" (der Tisch). The capitalizations of “nouns” add to the difficulty of the language. There are of course many capitalizations (or not) that do not follow a simple logic but rather make up the exceptions to the rule. An effort to simplify the language back in the late 90ies has failed. Although, many changes were introduced, a simplification was not the result.
Instead of making it difficult to learn the language, we should appreciate and encourage learning and concentrate on listening and understanding what others are saying, instead of making them feel bad about their “mistakes."

It may help to remember that nobody speaks “perfect German” in the first place.