Skip to Content

Why Study German?

There are many reasons for students of all disciplines to study German. Most are related to the country’s importance in many areas on a world stage. states that “German is the most widely spoken native language in Europe. On the one hand, this is because of Germany’s size, which with around 82 million inhabitants is the most populous country in the EU. On the other hand, German is also an official language in Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein as well as in Italy’s South Tyrol. In addition, German plays a role as a recognized minority language in Denmark, France, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. Approximately 55 million Europeans speak German as a foreign language.” Since the end of the Cold War, German is the most spoken language in Europe, the tenth most spoken language in the world.

Knowing German and learning about Germany’s culture and history opens many career opportunities and can lead to a decisive advantage giving University of Oregon students of German a competitive edge compared to their non-German speaking peers. The UO Department of German and Scandinavian ranks among the top 10 programs in the country and with our innovative undergraduate and graduate degree programs also affords opportunities to enrich students’ personal lives from exchange programs to learning about yourself by learning about another culture.

Research and Learning

Germany’s importance as a place of research and learning is indisputable. German-speakers rank among the world’s greatest artists and thinkers, while almost every academic discipline has a strong German tradition. In fact, the modern university itself, with its combination of teaching and research, is a German invention and Germany justifiably presents itself as “The Land of Ideas.” Today, Germany continues to value higher education: 2.3% of German citizens receive a doctorate, the highest rate in the world.

Nobel Prize awards give another kind of indication for Germany’s involvement in research and learning. Scientists from the three major German-speaking countries have won 37 Nobel Prizes in Physics (most recently in 2007), 39 in Chemistry (in 2014), 31 in Medicine (2013), and one in Economics. Many Nobel laureates from other countries received their training at German universities; 47 of them had fellowships from the Humboldt Foundation, including the three winners of the 2011 prize for medicine. Seven German and Austrian individuals have also received the Peace Prize — and while the 2012 Prize went to the EU as a whole, few people would dispute that Germany has played a disproportionately large role in the success of that institution.

Germany, Switzerland, and Austria are all famous for the quality of their universities, and Germany enrolls the third-highest number of international students in the world — in 2014, there were 301,350. It is also first in the amount of financial support it offers them. University of Oregon students of German may participate in many faculty led programs to the country or enroll in the Oregon-Baden-Württemberg Exchange program, which due to the support of the state of the German state of Baden-Württemberg, guarantees every UO participant financial support of between E40 and E400 monthly for the duration of their stay.


Business journal, The Economist recently points out that, “German ranks tenth in the number of native speakers. But it is fourth in the economic output produced by them … German is also fourth by number of learners, trailing English, Chinese and French and roughly tied with Spanish.” MIT economist Albert Saiz calculated that the average lifetime earnings bonus for an American college graduate who learns German is $128,000.

Indeed, nine of the world’s largest companies are German: BASF, BMW, Daimler, Deutsche Post, Deutsche Telekom, E.ON, Metro, Siemens, and Volkswagen. Additional influential German companies include Adidas, Bayer, Boehringer/Ingelheim, Bosch, Deutsche Bank, HochTief, Hoechst, Infineon, Lufthansa, and Mannesmann.

While Germany is an economic powerhouse in Europe, its scholars have developed fascinating economic ideas, suggesting that a thriving and just free market depends on a strong state, one that creates a proper legal and regulatory environment for the economy, maintains a healthy level of competition, and enacts a normative concept of social security and social justice.

University of Oregon business majors in the Lundquist College of Business find that German widens their cultural and intellectual horizons beyond the practical courses they take in business while providing them a competitive edge with German business partners such as LIDL corporation, Freightliner, SolarWolrd, and others. Soon, UO undergraduates will have the option of combining German and Economics to complete a Business German certificate culminating in a guaranteed corporate internship.

Kipplinger, quoting Jan Eckendorf, the Deputy Head of the Cultural Section of the German Embassy, sums it up this way: “Given the longstanding strength of German-speaking countries in science, technology and industry, German remains a major language of international trade and investment. Only about 500,000 Americans are learning German—so what better way to stand out from the crowd?”


German represents one of the greatest literary traditions in the world and it is particularly known for its distinctive interweaving of literature and ideas. Thirteen Nobel Prizes in Literature have been awarded to German-language writers. Only English-language writers have received more.

Among German writers who are recognized across traditions, are Lessing, Goethe, Schiller, Hölderlin, Novalis, Kleist, E.T.A. Hoffmann, the Grimm brothers, Georg Büchner, Heinrich Heine, Theodor Fontane, Thomas Mann, Rainer Maria Rilke, Hesse, Kafka, Benn, and many more. In fact, Germany has so many literary masterpieces that not all have been translated.

The concept of “world literature” comes from Goethe. German can be productively combined with the study of any other language and literature, including English, where the ties between the two literary cultures are reciprocal, multifarious, and deep.We offer courses in German studies broadly understood, but one of our distinctive strengths are our specialists who collaborate fully in an intellectual enterprise focused on modernity. Our various sub-concentrations, which include philosophical and theoretical discourses, Holocaust and memory studies, film, visual culture, folk traditions, and German Shakespeare Studies, represent substantive links to other departments and programs, in particular Philosophy, History, Judaic Studies, Art History, Music, English, Comparative Literature, Folklore, and Cinema Studies.

Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar