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Only very few Germans learn Chinese

August 3, 2011 – 5:59 pm

I just read an article about Chinese learners in Germany. The weekly magazin “Der Spiegel” seems to have some numbers. A good moment to answer the question “How many Chinese learners are there in Germany?”

First, let’s look at the key points of the article “Kaum ein Schüler lernt Chinesisch”, which loosely translates to “Only very few school kids learn Chinese”. Here are the main points:

- At German public schools, in the academic year 2010/11, Aproximately 5570 school kids at 226 schools learnd Chinese. Either as part of the regular curriculum, or in voluntary after class lectures. The exact number is expected to be higher, because just about 50% of the schools with a Chinese program returned the questionnaire.

- In the academic year 2007/08 the number was at 3200.

- In an unspecified year, probably last year, 7,500,000 school kids learned English, 1,700,000 learned French, 56,000 learned Italian.

Interesting numbers. Let’s find out a bit more. Germany, Switzerland and Austria combined have about 5000 students of Chinese at the university level. Finally we have evening schools, independent students and others learning the language outside of school or university, for example myself. I couldn’t find any statistical numbers for this group, however I think there are not that many. When I was in evening school learning Chinese, there were rarely more than 10 students at my level in a city of more than 100,000 inhabitants. Given these numbers, I’d say less than 20,000 people in Germany are actively learning Chinese at this moment. How many of them will learn until they are fluent? I don’t know, but the number could be much less.

That being said, I think it might pay off eventually to keep on learning Chinese. I just checked There are a lot of jobs posted with “Chinese nice to have”. But there are also a few jobs labeled “fluent Chinese and German required”. So far I have met few Chinese persons who are fluent in German.

In conclusion: Awesome!

  1. 4 Responses to “Only very few Germans learn Chinese”

  2. Nice one.
    Currently, I am however very frustrated about my Chinese, it seems I don´t have much advancement. I can learn characters, words, grammer… but I just don´t feel I´m really progressing.
    What do suggest?

    Greetings from China (near Chengdu)

    By Aremonus on Aug 4, 2011

  3. Hi Aremonus,

    I know you are a very busy person, so I’m not sure what advice I can give to you. I’m really certain now, that progress in learning Chinese is closely connected with time invested and I’m not aware of any magic pill.

    Besides the time issue, there is the motivational aspect. At the beginning of this year I had an motivational breakdown for a month, but I successfully fought it off with stubbornes. “I want to learn Chinese because I want to learn Chinese because I want to learn Chinese.”

    I’ll write two articles soon, one to battle motivational issues, and another one to share my latest fine tuning for more efficient learning. Maybe those might help you out.

    By Hendrik on Aug 4, 2011

  4. You are back to your core mission, it seems – writing about learning Chinese.
    I read the Spiegel article, too, and found it pretty vacuous. Very little about the challenges for a learner, and some functionary bemoaning that “the China challenge” had gone mostly unnoticed in Germany.

    As you noted in your post, Chinese language skills are frequently deemed nice to have, but that’s that. If a OECD country national is still considered a good choice to be paid like a classical expat in China, it will be for his or her technical knowledge, not for the language in the first place.

    What also struck me is that the Spiegel article didn’t deal with the issue of motivation. After all, to learn a language is mostly based on individual interest, not on what a national economy may require – and that was only a requirement in a stakeholder’s view, anyway.

    Have you ever met someone who learned Chinese successfully simply because a boss told him or her so? I haven’t.

    By justrecently on Aug 5, 2011

  5. Agree, the article was just the numbers. The author wasn’t allowed to just post the numbers, so he added some random words.

    Also agree. Other-skill is more important than Chinese. However I do admit that I do like learning Chinese. And therefore I’m pleased to see that there are jobs that do require fluent Chinese + fluent German + other-skill. I plan to collect job advertisements with such requirement compositions and then evaluate which other-skills are most often requested.Nice to have is meaningless, agree. Just learning the skill with the highest income potential works only for those who like that particular skill.

    For your last question I have a surprising answer for you. Not an exact yes, but something close to a yes. But there’s to much to write, I’ll do it this weekend in a new article.

    By Hendrik on Aug 5, 2011

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