Auf Wiedersehen, Spain: Learning German to Escape the Crisis

By Juan Moreno in Espera, Spain

Amid record unemployment, young people in Spain are desperately looking for a way out. One village believes it has found the answer: German courses for residents, to prepare them for a life in Europe's largest economy. But their teacher is trying to warn them that not everything is perfect in the land of beer and sausages.

The same word has been on the whiteboard for a couple of minutes now, as if taunting them that they'll never master this language. Antonio, Manuel, Francisco, Ana Belén, Mari Carmen, the other Francisco and shy Alicia, all of them stare at the front of the classroom, at that word. Their lips move silently.

It has something to do with clothing, the teacher hints.

At the beginning of the lesson, she proposed a game. No grammar today, she said. Instead, they'd do something fun to celebrate the last day of class -- a game of hangman, guessing German words they'd learned in the last three months.

The word on the board, printed in capital letters, reads "L E _ E R J A C K E." Just one letter is missing to make it "Lederjacke," leather jacket.

The teacher calls on a man in a green T-shirt. "Antonio?"

Antonio, a man with tired-looking eyes, sits all the way to the left side of the classroom. He thinks for a moment then suggests: "Leierjacke?"

"Leierjacke?" the teacher asks, rather aghast. It's a nonsense word, but taken literally, it would mean "lyre jacket."

That sounds German, the rest of the class agrees.

"No, no, no, not 'Leierjacke,'" the teacher declares. "The missing letter is 'D,' for 'Lederjacke.'" She draws one last line on the board, the hangman's right arm. The hangman is dead, the game is over and the class falls silent.

Not an Easy Language

German isn't an easy language, with its long strings of consonants and hardly a vowel to break them up. It isn't a logical language, either. Earlier in the class, there was a question of how to say "tio," or uncle, in German. That was an easy one. They all knew the word was "Onkel."

The next question was about the feminine form: "How do you say 'tia'?"

"Onkelin," one of the students, suggested, automatically adding a common German feminine ending to the word for uncle. The actual word for aunt, though, is completely different -- "Tante."

The students sit in a cool, tiled hall on the edge of Espera in the province of Cádiz in southern Spain. Espera is a picturesque, tidy mountain village about an hour from Seville, with 4,000 residents and a view of the Sierra de Cádiz mountains. There are whitewashed houses and a couple of bars where the TV is always on. The classroom is further down in the village, on the grounds of a recently opened sports complex with two basketball courts, several tennis courts and a new soccer stadium. The complex was completed before the crisis hit.

Espera made the evening news in Spain a few months ago when it became the first village to offer free German lessons to its unemployed. The idea was that people could learn German and then leave, go to Germany. The lessons were a way to help them escape.

The Profession of the Future

More than 200 people came to the first session. The communal hall, near the town hall, was overflowing. Fully half of Espera's residents are out of work, with the unemployment rate among young people at 80 percent. Before the crisis, not five years ago, more than 30 companies operated here, most of them producing concrete for the construction industry. A few of those businesses remain, but with hardly any permanent employees.

The village's name, "Espera," means "wait." But waiting is something few people in Espera, or in Spain, are willing to do anymore.

Seventy-three percent of Spanish architects say they would go abroad, to Germany if possible. Seventy percent of students at Madrid's Complutense University say the same, also preferring Germany. For lawyers, the figure is over 90 percent. CESM, the Spanish doctors' association, reported that 200 doctors from the province of Valencia had left for Germany. Language schools in Madrid and Barcelona have been reporting record enrollment in their German courses for months.

It seems teaching German may be the profession of the future in Spain.

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1. Growing vegetables distasteful?
lakechamplainer 07/07/2011
What's wrong with growing a vegetable garden? I enjoy growing vegetables both for the food and the exercise.
2. veggi garden/Germany too idealistic
sabana 07/09/2011
Exactly, what's wrong with growing your own veggis? I'd be more than happy to have the possibility to grow my own food without pesticides and for very little money. That's a perfect solution for poor families who could otherwise never afford fresh fruits or veggetables and it makes you feel better about your health and what you do to get your food! Also people still shouldn't forget that not everything is as perfect and easy as media paints it for the moment in Germany. If you don't hold a university degree of some profession in demand and speak the language you'll have a very hard time finding a well paid job. That's what they don't tell the Spanish. Why is Germany not investing in its own people? There are plenty of Germans out of work or who can't afford/don't have the possibility to get a better education. To invite skilled foreigners to work is a quick fix but will bring other problems along. Germany has white washed its unemployment figures with great success and it's very far from reality to say that jobs are thrown at you for a starting salary of € 5000 a month. I am German, I know without a uni degree there's not much to do, competition in the professions is high and there are many people who trained for 3 years and now struggle on € 1000 a month without much perspective...
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