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Dr. Anne Bollmann: ‘Knowledge of German language and culture can be very profitable’

15 March 2011

Few secondary school pupils choose German as an examination subject and even fewer go on to study it – far too few in the opinion of Dr Anne Bollmann. More attention should be paid to the importance of the German language and culture for the Netherlands and for Groningen in particular. ‘The Netherlands is missing out on billions of euros every year, in part due to miscommunication with German trade partners.’

On average, fifteen students a year begin a degree programme in German, according to Anne Bollmann, University Lecturer of German Language and Culture at the University of Groningen. About twenty students choose German as a Minor. ‘It has been worse. After the Berlin Wall fell, Germany had a very poor image; the country was seen as the big, dangerous neighbour. That negative image helped to make German as a subject unpopular.’  


The image has now much improved. ‘Since the football World Championships in 2006, everyone knows that Germans are no strangers to partying. German theatre, films and techno music are popular here in Holland. And these days everyone wants to go to Berlin’, Bollmann laughs. The Dutch certainly realize the importance of German, as can be seen by the many newspaper clippings and reports on her desk. A recent study of how Dutch secondary school pupils feel about German shows that 40 percent expect that German could be useful in finding a job. However, this does not translate into more students for her degree programme.  

That’s really hard to comprehend, Bollmann finds. ‘Germany is the Netherlands’ primary trade partner. Yet thanks to lack of knowledge of German language and culture, the Netherlands is missing out on billions of euros annually’, Bollmann states. ‘For example, someone Dutch will quickly address others informally, while Germans remain formal. This can lead to unnecessary irritation. Knowing the etiquette of another country can really help close a good deal.’

Good teachers

German is thus very important for the Netherlands and Dutch business. ‘But learning a language isn’t easy. Pupils really dislike having to learn vocabulary and grammar lists’, Bollmann says. ‘Language teaching should be combined much more strongly with literature, culture and contemporary politics. That would make the language come alive and make it useful to pupils.’ To have such a positive effect take place in teaching, there would have to be enough good German teachers, despite the current wave of teachers headed for retirement. Bollmann: ‘And preferably, they should be academically trained.’

But the low student numbers at universities tell a different tale. ‘With the exception of Groningen, no university still has a complete German degree programme’, Bollmann explains. Students in the west of the Netherlands commute between Amsterdam, Leiden and Utrecht to follow all their lectures. Radboud University Nijmegen sends its German students across the border for major portions of their degree programme.  

Quiet Saturday market

Bollmann thinks it’s logical that Groningen still offers a complete degree programme, since Germany is important for the University, the city and the province. ‘Without the Germans, the Saturday market would be quiet and IKEA would perhaps have never decided to open here’, she says. ‘We have students from Germany here, but also Dutch economics students who would like to work in Germany. For both Germans and Dutch in the border region, the whole Dutch-German area is a potential job market.’

Business, politics and education – all stakeholders should join together and ‘advertise’ the importance of knowledge of German language and culture for the Netherlands. ‘Make sure that pupils choose German at school. Make sure that students study German language and culture.’ And to give a typical Dutch push, she adds: ‘It can be very profitable.’  

Curriculum Vitae

Dr Anne Bollmann (Dingden, North Rhine-Westphalia, 1963) studied German, Dutch and History at the WestfälischeWilhelms-Universität Münster. She was awarded a PhD in 2004 by the University of Groningen for a literary-historical study of female religious in the late medieval border region of the north-eastern Netherlands and Germany. She is University Lecturer of German Language and Culture and Medieval Studies at the University of Groningen.

Contact: Dr Anne Bollmann

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.10 p.m.
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