The competition within academia is tough. At first glance, it therefore seems sensible to invest the time spent in Germany in gaining further specialist qualifications, rather than in learning German. Appearances are deceiving though: it is by all means worth learning German - for a number of reasons. Firstly, foreign academics studying or researching in Germany must also organise their private lives. Although English is a mandatory subject in German schools, certainly not everyone is able to speak and understand it. Secondly, learning German can open up further options: with 185million speakers of which 100million are native speakers, German is one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world. So if a career in academia should not work out - or, conversely, perhaps even work out so well that the research findings can be marketed internationally - speaking German clears the way to the leading markets. Thirdly, you should not even miss this opportunity due to the academic career planning. When learning a foreign language you also always acquire skills that can prove beneficial in professional advancement in the multinational academic world. After all, you never make a career for yourself entirely alone.
Foreign languages and intercultural skills
Take the following situation, for example: the members of an international research group have been busy and in the Monday meeting, they all report to the group leader. The Japanese colleague never looks the latter directly in the eye. In contrast, the Frenchman presents his findings with sweeping gestures and almost exaggerated confidence. Does one lack confidence and the other perhaps have too much? No, they simply come from different cultures. The French communication style - if there is such a thing - is punctuated by gestures; in the Japanese culture, etiquette dictates that it is impolite to look superiors and elders directly in the eye. Such examples are at least described in the literature on intercultural communication. In real-life situations, it is often difficult to establish which aspects of behaviour are individual and which are due to cultural influences. This is not different if the conversation is in English - mostly in the form of an internationalised and specialist variety predominantly used by non-native speakers. Speakers transfer many paralinguistic aspects of their native culture. Moreover, each individual interprets what the others say and how they say it according to their own background.
Crucial is the interaction with other speakers
Our thoughts and feelings, actions and perceptions are influenced by our culture. However, we are not normally aware of this. Cultural anthropology uses the image of an iceberg to illustrate this phenomenon: very few of a culture's characteristics are actually visible. Many supposedly typical features (e.g. food, architecture, and clothing) can be observed and classified. The larger and more complex part lies beneath the surface: group behaviour, learning styles, hygiene, perceptions of time, and much more. Intercultural competence is therefore essential for efficient work within multicultural teams. Learning and trying out a foreign language in the country itself is the best way to deal with the cultural challenges. This enables intensive exposure to the foreign culture - and inevitably also to one's own. One gains clarification and problem-solving skills. Learning a language at one's desk does not have the desired effect in this respect. It is of course necessary to take a targeted approach to build a solid basis and tackle problem areas. However, the interaction with other speakers is always the practical test. You can only acquire communication skills through the interaction with native speakers.