As Germany celebrates the 25th anniversary of its reunification this week, also with a major reception in Oslo, Norwegian business leaders worry that far too few young Norwegians are studying German and other foreign languages. They want “mehr Deutsch, bitte” (more German, please), to avoid losing business contracts with foreign firms because they lack knowledge of language and culture.
“There may be more Germans studying Norwegian than Norwegians studying German,” mused one German student, Klara Wade, in newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) earlier this year. German used to be required in Norwegian schools, but now it’s an option, and many young Norwegians are opting instead for languages like Chinese and Spanish, or trying to perfect their English.
Are Turmo, competence director at Norway’s large employers’ organization NHO, told DN he sees a real need for more foreign language competence among Norwegians. “Most Norwegian companies have contact with firms abroad,” Turmo said. “It’s important to not only have language competence, but cultural competence.”
Werner Fuchs, manager of Tinex, a Norwegian tech firm specializing in defense and security, public transport and communications, has a pressing need for employees who can speak and understand German but has trouble finding them. “It’s become more attractive to study in Australia and more exotic countries,” he told DN. “And Spanish seems to be more ‘in’ now.” Only 10 percent of his employees can communicate in German. He wishes it was 60 percent.
So does Turmo. “We have more than 4,000 Norwegian students in the US and Great Britain, but only 500 in Germany,” he said, even though Germany is among Norway’s biggest trading partners. Wade, who’s been studying German in Berlin, said she thinks it’s arrogant for Norwegians to expect others “to learn our little language, when we shoud be learning the language of the most powerful nation in the EU.”