Sprechen sie Deutsch? Jobseekers urged to learn German
Angela Merkel believes more Europeans should speak her language. Kim Bielenberg reports
The head of Ireland's skills taskforce has called on Ruairi Quinn to restore a primary school language initiative as Irish students miss out on thousands of jobs.
Our poor grasp of continental languages, and in particular German, is forcing employers to bring in thousands of workers from abroad.
Irish workers with basic language could also fill thousands of construction jobs in Germany and avoid having to emigrate to the other side of the world.
Una Halligan, chairman of the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs, said Education Minister Ruairi Quinn should reverse his decision to scrap a scheme that promoted the teaching of languages in primary schools.
"He should reinstate the scheme,'' said Ms Halligan "I think it is widely accepted that the older you are the more difficult it is to learn a foreign language."
She called for a comprehensive foreign language policy, starting at primary and going right through to third level.
She said learning languages should also be a mandatory part of business degrees.
Ms Halligan said: "It is such a loss that kids are not learning two or three languages at primary school. They should be taught in a fun way, with a concentration on the spoken language."
A recent report by the Royal Irish Academy said Ireland was the only country in Europe, other than Scotland, where a foreign language was not compulsory at any stage of the school curriculum.
Una Halligan said: "Our lack of German speakers comes up time and time again among employers, and young people are missing out on thousands of jobs as a result.
German is the most widely spoken native language in Europe.
According to the German Irish Chamber of Commerce, there are now 2,000 vacant jobs for German speakers in Ireland.
Holger Erdmann, an executive with the chamber, said: "Many of these jobs are with multi-nationals and are in the area of customer support.
"It is almost impossible to find Irish people who can speak German, and it is hard to attract German speakers from continental Europe, because of the damage done to Ireland's reputation during the recession."
Mr Erdmann said Irish workers were also missing out on tens of thousands of jobs across continental Europe.
"It is puzzling that people who work in areas such as construction are prepared to emigrate to Australia, when they could get to Germany to fill jobs in less time than it takes to get to Kerry, and return home regularly. In Germany, they are crying out for quality staff in a whole range of areas"
Mr Erdmann said Ruairi Quinn's decision to scrap the primary school language initiative sent out the wrong signal.
Angela Merkel's Christian Democrat party has said it wants to increase the use of German in Europe if it is re-elected later this month.
"German is the most frequently spoken native language in the European Union," a policy document from Mrs Merkel's party stated earlier this year. Our goal is that it is treated in the same way as English and French in the European Parliament, the European Commission and European Council."
Across Southern Europe, including Italy, Greece and Spain, there has been a boom in the number of students signing up for German courses as workers see the job opportunities.
At the Goethe Institute in Dublin, there has been an increase in the number of people doing short courses.
However, Holger Erdmann said there was a decline in the number of students studying German at the Leaving Cert.
The number sitting German in the exam has dropped by 4.5pc since 2011 to just 6,644.
While Irish unemployment remains stubbornly high, in many parts of Germany there is almost full employment.
There is a shortage of skilled workers.
Una Halligan said: "Our lack of language skills is debilitating.
"You don't have to be a native speaker and you don't have to study the language at third level.
"We should be encouraging young people to spend their summers working in countries where foreign languages are spoken.
''That is the best way to learn the language.
"University students should be encouraged to spend a year studying in a country where they will pick up another language."
Una Halligan echoes the view of the employers' group IBEC that many Irish companies are being locked out of foreign markets because of poor language skills.
The dominance of English as the language of the internet and popular culture has bred complacency.
Ms Halligan, a former executive with Hewlett Packard, said: "The message needs to get out there to Irish companies you need to speak German if you want to trade with Germany.
"German speakers are not just needed in the multi-nationals with European headquarters in Ireland.
''Indigenous Irish companies need people on the ground who can speak the language and seal the deal."
"It is not just about understanding the language.
''It's about understanding the culture and showing a certain respect to those with whom you are doing business."