Travel to improve the lingo

November 28, 1997

German students are failing the foreign languages test, according to a survey carried out for the education ministry.

Although 85 per cent of students claim to have some knowledge of English, only half of them are proficient enough to read specialist periodicals or have verbal and negotiating skills.

Only 10 per cent of German students are bilingual, and just 1.5 per cent have mastered three or more languages, according to the survey by the higher education information system. "German students are a long way from the ideal of the polyglot European citizen," concluded report authors Klaus Schnitzer and Peter Mussig-Trapp.

Science and engineering students are particularly poor at foreign languages, although engineering students are the most likely to need English skills in their careers, the report found.

German students study abroad more than their European counterparts. Ten per cent now spend part of their studies abroad - a far higher rate than in France, the Netherlands or Britain.

However, a survey of graduate job advertisements showed that while German employers demand foreign languages, especially English, they are still slow to reward graduates with experience of studying abroad or with international qualifications.

The report was commissioned as part of the drive to make German higher education more international. The ministry wants to attract more foreign students and help its own students on the international employment market.

The report urges universities to encourage as many students as possible to take advantage of short "tasters" of foreign experience .

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