GA Bands

Choosing To Learn German


E. L. Jordan, PH.D
Chairman, Department of German
New Jersey College for Women

Last summer, during a visit to Norway, I was surprised to discover that nearly everybody was able to talk to me in English - clerks, housewives, dock workers, - even in small towns. None of them had been in England or America. Where did they learn the foreign language? The answer was always the same: "Why, in public school."

Why do Norwegians (And many other Europeans) learn to speak foreign languages easily and fluently, while so few Americans achieve the goal? The Europeans have no secret formula. They just start their training in school at an earlier date. Usually they begin at the age of ten. Why don't we Americans adopt that system? Well, we are beginning to do so. All over the country there is a movement afoot to start foreign language training at the earlier grades. That trend should be encouraged by all means.

Which language should young boys and girls choose? The answer will depend on personal preference. As far as German is concerned, a very practical aspect is involved for all those who want to become doctors, engineers, chemists, physicists, bacteriologists or scientists in some other field. To all of them German will be most useful if not essential in their careers. Next to the United States, Germany is again a leader in research in all of the aforementioned fields, and German scientific journals are constantly read, checked and studied in this country, not only by researchers in university laboratories, but by practical men and women in our chemical, electrical, pharmaceutical, optical companies and many others. Those technicians who have knowledge of German will have a definite advantage.

Some time ago the American Association of Teachers of German approached a number of country's leading scientists and businessmen with the question whether they would recommend the study of German. They all endorsed they idea heartily.

Those boys and girls who plan to travel to Europe some day will find their stay in Germany, Austria and Switzerland doubly enjoyable and profitable if they understand the German language, and those who are interested in the so-called finer things in life, will find it a thrilling experience to read Goether, Schiller and Mann in the original, or actually to understand what is going on when they hear or see Wagner's "Meistersinger" or "Parsifal" on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera.


(Part of a pamphlet issued by the
Board of Education of the City of New York)

German is a living language. It is a language not only of the people living in German and Austria, but also of large sections of Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary. The people of Holland and of the Scandinavian countries speak languages closely related to German. German is spoken by millions of people in the Untied States. There are many resemblances between English and German. English is derived from an old Teutonic dialect, Anglo-Saxon, a Germanic language.

Knowledge of German will be of advantage in our own country, as well as to travelers through Central and Northern Europe.

Students specializing in science, especially chemistry, physics, biology and engineering, will find a reading knowledge of German very helpful. Frequently in their studies reference will be made to scientific books and technical papers published only in German. Medical students and physicians refer frequently to important medical journals and books which have not been translated from the original German. To students of music, German is of interest because it was the language of many famous composers.


Ernest Rose, Chairman
Department of German
New York University

In the air age, a greater study of languages in American schools is of primary importance for the survival of the United States as a world power. Whether we want it or not, our fate is indelibly linked with our ability to convince other nations of the peacefulness and soundness of our aims and to win their friendship by a sympathetic understanding of their aspirations and achievements. A presupposition of this ability is the command, by Americans at all levels, of all major languages o the world. Any educational isolation under present international conditions would be self-defeating.

Among the major languages spoken by civilized nations, German still commands an enviable place. Our political and commercial relations with Austria and Switzerland have always been excellent; Those with Germany in the last years have become increasingly important. Even outside of German speaking countries, a knowledge of German would open many doors in scientific, artistic, and commercial circles. There will always be numerous officers, diplomats, business men and technical experts for whom a practical knowledge of German is indispensable.

But aside from these practical considerations, German is an important language for the study of Western Culture. The culture values deposited in the German language can be found primarily in three branches of culture, in the arts, natural sciences and in the humanities.

The art of music cannot be thoroughly studied without a knowledge of German. The overwhelming majority of church hymns are based on German texts.

An adequate study of the opera is impossible without a study of the German libretti of Wagner, Beethoven, Weber and Strauss. The German Lied is the amalgamation of a poetic work of art with musical work of art, and the component is usually untranslatable.

In the fine arts, German works on aesthetic history are of considerable importance. The most comprehensive biographical dictionary for the fine arts is written in German.

German literature has always influenced English and American literature and has been greatly appreciated here. We state a truism, when we assert that an intimate knowledge of German literature is very helpful to our understanding of our own literature., and every professor of English will attest to the fact that such an intimate knowledge can hardly be gained by reading the existing unsatisfactory translations of Goethe, Chiller and Rilke.

The importance of German for the natural sciences should not need any detailed demonstration. The works of Roentgen and Helmholtz, of Liebig and Wohler, of Koch and Virchow, of Gauss and Weyerstrass, of Planck and Einstein, and of many other leading scientists were originally written in German. Not all of them have been translated, and the voluminous files of German periodicals never will be translated. This holds true regardless of any future developments in German Science.

We must also not forget the very real contribution German can make to the understanding of our own language, English is after all a Germanic language, and a knowledge of another Germanic language will therefore greatly contribute to the student's grasp of his mother tongue.

For all these reasons, a knowledge of German is greatly accepted by American colleges as the fulfillment of an entrance prerequisite.

See "Notes On German As A World Language" for more information!