German ambassador in favour of keeping second foreign language compulsory in Czech schools

Andreas Künne

The Czech Ministry of Education has recently sparked a debate with a proposal to make the learning of a second language in Czech primary schools voluntary rather than compulsory as it is at present. While many teachers have welcomed the idea, a group of foreign diplomats to Czechia have openly spoken against it. Among them is German ambassador to Prague Andreas Künne, who explained his position to Radio Prague International.

Ministry of Education | Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio

“I am convinced that every language you speak really is a window into a new world, into a new way of thinking and the more languages you speak, the richer you are as an individual.

“Obviously I agree that it is necessary that everyone speaks English. Yet even in today’s Europe you won’t get very far with just English in many places.

“English might be enough to get something to eat as a tourist, but if you want to understand anything about how others think and why they are doing what they are doing, you will need to make an effort at learning their language.

“Regarding the current debate on whether the teaching of a second foreign language in Czechia should be compulsory, I would ask: should we do away with an important subject just because there are difficulties in teaching, or should we rather try and improve the system?”

Photo: geralt,  Pixabay,  CC0 1.0 DEED

Nowadays children in Czech primary school have a wide choice of second languages they can choose from. Why would you say it is important for them to learn German?

“Let me stress that this isn’t just about German. It really is about supporting multilingualism and about bringing Europe close together. That’s why it was so important to me and my French, Italian and Spanish colleagues that we act in unison.

“It is at least as much about Europe, from our perspective as well as from my own perspective, as it is about German.

“But coming to your question, Germany and Austria are immediate neighbours of the Czech Republic, our economic ties are extremely close and so are our cultural ties.

“Speaking German opens the doors to German companies. We share an 800-kilometre-long border with Czechia and I would also like to mention that German is the most widely spoken mother tongue in Europe. So I do believe these are all very strong reasons for learning German.”

Photo: ČT24

I know the German embassy has been involved in promoting the learning of German as a second language. What do you think can be done to increase its popularity among Czech schoolchildren?

“I know that German has the reputation of being difficult, but I am trying to learn Czech at the moment and all I can say is that German is a lot less difficult than Czech.

“But seriously, we are not unhappy about the number of Czech students studying German. At the same time, the better obviously is the enemy of the good.

“So what we are trying to do is help students and their parents figure out where you can learn German through elementary schools all the way to the high school exams.

“We bring interested students and companies together with our “šprechtíme” campaign, we have a very active Goethe institute, we train teachers, we try and contribute to improving the curricula, we support students of German at universities and so on.

“So we do engage in a lot of activities and again I think the numbers prove us right thatthere is obviously always room for improving even a good thing.”

Andreas Künne | Photo: German Embassy in Prague

As you have already said, we share a common border and there are thousands of Czechs commuting to Germany and Austria for work. Is German a significant advantage for those searching for a job in your country?

“The brief answer would be yes. I am convinced that of the commuters we have – there are tens of thousands of commuters, between 40 and 60 thousand – ninety percent of them do speak German. And you would find it very difficult to enter the German labour market without speaking any German.

“Even if you work for a German multinational company, where English is supposedly the number one language. You will find yourself excluded from some of the really interesting conversations.

“And it’s no coincidence that also the German-Czech Chamber of Commerce and Industry here in Prague have publicly declared their opposition to making the learning of second foreign language optional.”