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Verena Gräfin von Roedern, Head of the German Consulate General in Edinburgh

photo of Verena Grafin von RoedeWhere did you grow up and what languages did you come across at school?

I grew up in a small town called Erbach, about an hour south of Frankfurt am Main. After finishing four years of primary school there, I went to the neighbouring town of Michelstadt for my secondary education. That was also when I learned my first foreign language, namely English, at the age of ten. Two years later, I chose Latin as a second foreign language, followed by French. By then, learning a third foreign language was voluntary and the classes were held in the afternoon, unlike the rest of our lessons. 

What role have languages played in your life so far?

From my early childhood foreign languages have played a large role in my life, as both my mother and my older half-sister were au-pairs for the same family in England. Years later, I took part in an exchange with the youngest daughter of that family. By the time I was ten, I was determined to picture of Eiffel Towerlearn English, French and Spanish. Not only did I take part in a student exchange with a girl from England, France and Canada, but I also made sure that I was exposed to all three languages for a longer period of time, in countries where they were spoken. Between school and university I spent seven months in the USA. At one stage I interrupted my law studies in order to take a semester-long French language and culture course at the Sorbonne University in Paris. During my practical legal training, I worked in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for three months. I did all this with the intention of being able to work in foreign countries at some point. When I finally sat the German Foreign Office entrance exam, it included a very demanding language test in English and French. 

German people often have a very good command of English. Why do we need to learn German, taking this into consideration? Isn't English enough?

In our globalized world it is definitely not enough just to know English. There are multiple reasons for learning German as a foreign language.

Educational reasons:

Languages raise standards in schools and quality of learning. They increase communicative aptitude and develop interpersonal skills. International education and modern foreign languages go together (global citizenship, European awareness etc.). Furthermore, benefits of multilingualism include increased cognitive and analytical skills (as proven by research carried out by Professor Sorace, at the University of Edinburgh).

Economic reasons:
  • Germany is the EU‘s largest economyimage of german currency
  • Germany is the 2nd largest exporter in the world
  • Germany is the 3rd largest trading partner of the UK
  • Germany is the 4th largest export market for Scotland
  • Germany is the 5th largest economy in the world
  • Approximately 20% of foreign direct investment in Scotland is from Germany
  • Germany is the fastest growing European market for Scottish food exports
  • German tourists are Scotland‘s second-largest group of visitors and spend £131 million per annum
Political reasons:

European Union flagAs the native language of over 120 million people, German is the most widely spoken language in the EU.
German is an official national language in five countries.
German is a working language of all European institutions.
German encourages Global citizenship (a goal of Curriculum for Excellence).
It enables one to work in foreign missions abroad.
It facilitates Scottish engagement with the wider world.

Academic reasons:
  • German provides study and research opportunities in one of the world’s most celebrated Higher Education landscapes group of students
  • It enables Erasmus and other academic exchanges
  • It helps to develop sustainable academic collaboration with German partners and enables comparative analysis
Cultural reasons:
  • German facilitates opportunities to live, work and study abroad
  • It enables first hand understanding of the works of important figures in history (Luther, Freud, Einstein, Wagner, Brecht, Kant)
German matters!

Results of a CBI study in 2010 show: “English is not enough!”. Trade figures show that you can buy in your own language, but must sell in the language of your customer. According to the study picture of graduate45 % more sales can be achieved if a company proactively seeks to export in non-English speaking countries. Furthermore, 5 % performance enhancement is experienced with foreign language skills at managerial level.

Finally, employability and job opportunities for graduates are enhanced if they can work abroad, which is why student unions are demanding access to language courses for all students, regardless of their main subject. 

Where else in the world is German spoken?

German is spoken by more than 120 million people in Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Northern Italy, parts of Belgium and Eastern France as well as in Romania. There are sizable German speaking communities in Canada, USA, South America, South Africa and Australia. 

German has the reputation for being difficult. Would you agree?

Not really, as German and English belong to the same language family and are phonetically very similar. The grammar and vocabulary are also alike. 

What German businesses deal mostly with Scotland?

Scotland is an interesting market for German investors because of its good infrastructure and relatively low production costs. Big companies from the automobile and electronics sector are image of Scottish and German flagsrepresented here (BMW, Siemens, Bosch-Rexroth, Thyssen). This is also true of food retailers, such as Lidl and Aldi, and service companies, like Thomas Cook and T-Mobile. Pension funds of big German share companies are also managed out of Edinburgh. More strikingly, however, around 2000 German companies provide more than 250.000 jobs in the UK as a whole. According to figures provided by SDI Scotland 145 German companies altogether are represented in Scotland. 

Have you enjoyed your time so far in Scotland? Is there anything you miss from Germany? Are some things similar, others different? Can you give examples of either of these?

map of ScotlandI have had the privilege to live through a very interesting political time in Scotland, which has made my stay here professionally challenging, in a positive way. I followed the run up to the Scottish Independence Referendum, right from the signing of the Edinburgh Agreement to the referendum itself, on 18 September 2014. I was able to experience an impressive and unprecedented rise in political engagement by a large portion of the population. My work was helped by the fact that most Scottish politicians, including members of the Scottish government, are very approachable. This facilitated the political part of my work here, which encompasses following and reporting on the political developments taking place in Scotland.

However, politics is only one aspect of my work and I was also fortunate enough to start working in Edinburgh the very day the Edinburgh International Festival started in 2012. I was most impressed by what an important role the cultural heritage of this nation plays not only in Edinburgh, but in Scotland as a whole. Visits to most universities showed me the great standard of higher education in Scotland and the opportunities for academic exchange and international collaboration. 

I was also able to visit most corners of Scotland, from east to west, including some of your stunning islands, such as the Isle of Mull and the Isle of Skye. I also travelled from south to north, as far as the Orkneys and the Shetland Islands, travelling numerous times through the Scottish Highlands. I was more than once impressed by the natural beauty of the country and the vast sights and attractions it has to offer. I learned to appreciate and understand why so many of my countrymen come to Scotland on holiday and are in no way put off if the sun is not always shining.

If I have missed one thing from Germany, it would have to be German bread.

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