The limits of my language are the limits of my world

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Gordon Kricke (The Philippine Star) - September 27, 2018 - 12:00am

Okay, I better admit it before someone else finds it out: that phrase is not really my own. It comes from the famous philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein -“Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt” –  and I assume it has a deeper philosophical meaning. I have not read his very challenging and dense philosophical works, but I like that phrase and I think it can also be well applied when we speak about the importance of learning a foreign language. It came to my mind again last week when I attended a handover ceremony of German language certificates at the excellent German European School in Manila. I really enjoyed meeting the students who were justifiably proud of their achievement and relieved to have passed the examination. It is true, before that brief happy moment the students had to spend many hours of hard work. I know this from my own experience all too well. Learning a new language is an uphill struggle and everybody has to overcome moments of frustration.

Is it really worth all the effort? Yes of course it is. There are many good reasons to learn a new language and even more to learn German. It is often said that Germany is the country of poets and thinkers – Das Land der Dichter und Denker – but German is also the language of inventors and innovators. Book-printing and beer, chip-card and Christmas tree, television, telephone, toothpaste, airbag, aspirin, car, motor bike, bicycle, computer, MP3 format, –these are just a few examples. They all come from Germany – or Germans helped develop them. That constant process of innovation is one of the reasons for the strength of the economy. Without innovations there would be no progress. There are 605,000 people working in research and development in Germany and 80 billion Euros are invested in research and development annually. This helped to make Germany the single largest economy in the European Union and after the USA, China and Japan number four in the world.

Speaking German can help you advance your career or to study in Germany or other German speaking countries. With very low unemployment and strong employment rights Germany is one of the most attractive labor markets worldwide. It has moved up to second place in the global labor-market rankings. Due to its thriving international startup scene Berlin has risen from sixth to third place in the city rankings of the most popular places in the world to work.

German is also an important language in science; in fact, it ranks second as the most commonly used in scientific language. Over one hundred Nobel Prizes have gone to brilliant Germans for accomplishments in physics, medicine, chemistry, literature and other areas. That is not even counting the prizes awarded to people from the other two major German-speaking countries Austria and Switzerland. So if you are looking to add a Nobel Prize to your resume, learning German might not be a bad step to start with.

Learning any new foreign language – not only German – helps you as well to discover a different culture, to find new interesting friends and also to become a more interesting person to others. 

The German European School is a great place to learn German and the Goethe Institute in Manila is also an obvious option, but there other possibilities as well. Ten Filipino high schools already have a German language program and the University of the Philippines Diliman has a German language professorship.

Speaking of language and bright quotes: Ludwig Wittgenstein said by the way a few other smart things which in today’s noisy and attention seeking political discourse and in the overexcited social media world many people might be well-advised  to consider:  “What can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.”

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(Gordon Kricke is the German Ambassador to the Philippines)

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