German as a Language of Science

Memorandum of the DAAD

© DAAD/ Bosse und Meinhard, Wissenschaftskommunikation
© DAAD/ Bosse und Meinhard, Wissenschaftskommunikation
The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) regards the promotion of the German language as one of its core strategic objectives. As an organization comprising German institutions of higher education, it believes it has a duty to actively strengthen the role of German as a language of science and scholarship.

The DAAD seeks advice in this context from an international advisory council in German studies, upon whose recommendations this memorandum is based.

For the purposes of this memorandum, a language of science and scholarship is broadly understood as being a language that is used for teaching at universities, for communication between researchers at congresses and during the course of their everyday academic activities and for publications, each with their own specific terminology. German as a language of science has evolved historically and is a complex and highly traditional element of the country’s cultural heritage. It constitutes an essential resource for knowledge generation and creativity and ensures the vitality of the common, everyday language and the communication of academic findings to a non-academic audience.

At the same time, there is an increasing tendency in Germany and other countries to give preference to English in academic publications, at conferences and even in teaching. In some disciplines, especially in the natural sciences, English will for the foreseeable future dominate international expert communication. This is a consequence of the growing importance of multilateral cooperative ventures which are increasingly competing on a global level for research funding, young researchers and students, and of the growing relevance of comparative evaluations.

Supporting and helping to drive forward the internationalization of German universities is just as much a core task for the DAAD as promoting the German language. We respond to the challenge posed by the dominance of English as an international language of science by making a clear commitment to academic multilingualism, and believe ourselves to be in agreement here with other German academic organizations – see for example the joint press release issued on 18 February 2009 by the DAAD, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the Goethe-Institut and the German Rector’s Conference.

For us, strengthening German as a language of science is a central element of promoting academic multilingualism. The DAAD thus pursues the following language policy guidelines:

  • Excellent science is an advertisement for the German language:

The international appeal of a language is closely related to the economic, cultural and academic importance of the country in which it is spoken. Only if we ensure excellent conditions for research, publication and teaching can the programmes offered by German universities reach out to other countries and arouse an interest in Germany that will also extend to the language spoken in this country. This should be taken into account in the courses run by the individual faculties. 

In some disciplines in the humanities and cultural sciences, German continues to be regarded as an international language of science and scholarship (such as in the “Arts & Humanities Citation Index” and in the “Social Science Index”); wherever the prevailing culture in a particular subject necessitates publications in English, ways have to be found to make research findings available in German too. In international degree courses taught in English, and in German-language degree courses abroad, additional tuition in (specialist) German language must be made an integral part of the course with a view to improving the social integration of international students and guest researchers and in order to ensure that they establish long-term ties to Germany.
  • Linguistic diversity and internationalization are not mutually exclusive:

    Within the framework of international exchanges, linguistic access to other knowledge cultures must be ensured not only via a “lingua franca” but also by creating opportunities to learn the language of the other culture. We must make sure that no insurmountable language barriers exist between German and foreign universities; at the same time, however, we must ensure in academic collaboration that learning German is and can be perceived as a means of gaining access to a renowned centre of academic knowledge and culture. In other words, we must develop the necessary self-awareness to preserve and utilize our own language to an even greater extent than before.
  • Multilingual science and scholarship depends on high quality foreign language teaching at schools:

    Although this does not fall directly within the DAAD’s remit, we emphasize the importance of high quality foreign language instruction at schools as a prerequisite for multilingual science and scholarship. Germany must set a good example here. It is up to us to make sure that this aspect is given due consideration in political discourse while at the same time investing in excellent training for teachers of German as a foreign language, both in Germany and abroad. Part of this is also our worldwide network of lectors who employ modern didactic methods to train German teachers at universities abroad. 

A particularly important role in the early preparation for German as a language of science is played by German schools abroad, where the teaching of subject-specific knowledge is closely related to the teaching of language skills. The DAAD provides scholarships to help enable the best non-native-speaker graduates of such schools to study at German universities, thus recruiting highly motivated young students to the German research community.

Against the backdrop of these language policy convictions, the DAAD promotes German as a language of science on three levels:

  • Linguistic preparation:

    People who learn German gain access to knowledge, culture, discourse and ideas in German-speaking countries and Central Europe. By offering a comprehensive range of linguistic preparation courses for foreign students and scholars coming to Germany, the DAAD fulfils its objective of giving foreign guests the chance to acquire the “Germany skills” they need. To this end, the DAAD offers its scholarship holders language courses lasting up to six months in Germany as well as online courses for distance learning. What is more, the DAAD is committed to ensuring that certificates proving German language skills are made globally transparent and standardized, which is why it played an active role in developing the TestDaF German language test.
  • Technical cooperation:

    By promoting German-language degree courses in Central/Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and dual diploma programmes and export degree courses run by German universities worldwide, the DAAD creates opportunities for technical cooperation which also bring about intercultural dialogue in scientific and technical disciplines. 

The worlds of business, politics and society can be accessed not least through language, and a command of German is often also of economic relevance. This is similarly true of the English-language courses which exist, for example, in Asia, the Middle East and other growth regions thanks to the support of the DAAD – because of their technical appeal, international students develop ties to Germany as a centre of science and scholarship and are motivated to learn German. 

To ensure that this happens, the DAAD does its best to ensure that integrated language-learning courses are made compulsory. It is already clear that establishing German universities such as the German-Jordanian University in Amman can give a considerable boost to the German language in the region in question.
  • Supporting German studies:


Demand for German as a foreign language at universities abroad must be stimulated and made more permanent by offering attractive courses. In many places around the world, German departments find themselves in a difficult situation and often face dwindling student numbers. It is therefore essential that foreign institutions receive support with the continuous modernization of German studies curricula. 

This means not only pragmatically opening up the subject to include the teaching of vocationally-relevant skills, but also preserving the subject’s philological core and its role in teaching the language of the German humanities. The DAAD thus offers targeted support of German studies, encompassing not only its worldwide network of lectors but also the promotion of institutional partnerships, semester scholarships for students of German and systematic cooperation with professional associations in Germany and abroad in order to sharpen the wide-ranging profile of academic German teaching at conferences and in publications. 

In those regions of the world in which growing interest in Germany and in German as a foreign language is evident, the DAAD is additionally investing in high quality training for teachers of German and promotes MA courses in German as a foreign language for foreign students in Germany and abroad.

One of the goals of preserving and maintaining German as a language of science and culture is to ensure that German scholars continue to have the chance to acquire and communicate their knowledge and findings in their own native tongue, allowing them to achieve a degree of linguistic nuance that is rarely possible in a foreign language.

Being able to communicate in German with German-speaking international colleagues at events relating to Germany is also a matter of cultural self-respect and politeness.

In view of the internationalization of our universities, steps must also be taken to ensure that German research in all disciplines and subject areas can attract worldwide attention. This is why we pursue two directions with our strategy of active language promotion: on the one hand, German should be an accepted working and conference language at international meetings wherever the majority of participants has a command of German; this requires additional resources to finance interpreting services. On the other hand, multilingualism among German students and scholars must be promoted in order to enable them to engage in high-level subject-specific communication in English and other foreign languages.

The large number of projects we support provides us each day with clear evidence of how enriching it is to have a command of German as a language of science and scholarship. Even in its role as a globally active mediatory organization, one of the tasks of the DAAD is to preserve and further advance the linguistic identity of Germany as a centre of knowledge and academic research. The DAAD is thus committed to ensuring that priority is given to the use of German in its own communication, both internally and externally, and that English and other foreign languages are used merely on a supplementary level. The goal of international understanding should also be made visible here in the form of systematic multilingualism.

Translation: Chris Cave
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