Language skills required

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Europeans enjoy freedom of movement, but they don’t make enough use of it. The European labour market could benefit tremendously from a higher degree of mobility. If it was not for the language barrier. But in times of crisis, people – especially qualified young people from Southern Europe – no longer hesitate to accept the challenge.

Even if that means learning German. Which is the case for an increasing number of Spaniards. The language courses in the ‘Goethe-Institute’ between Barcelona and Sevilla have been reporting record registrations for three years already. Almost 30,000 Spanish citizens have emigrated to Germany in 2012. According to the federal office of statistics this represents an increase of roughly 50% for the second year in a row. Contrary to their predecessors of the German ‘Wirtschaftswunder’ in the 1960s and 70s, most of them are highly qualified. And whatever their destination – a big multinational like Daimler-Benz in an international city, or one of these innovative Mittelstand champions with a factory in the middle of nowhere – many of them report that the language issue is key to integration (next to putting up with very different meal times and a lesser dose of sunshine).

Two highly-skilled Spanish migrants: Pep Gardiola, 42, from Catalunya, famous football coach, Bayern Munich; Alba Morell, 25, from Galicia, young engineer, Daimler-Benz.

But none of them had to face a language test like the most famous of these migrants did on Monday: Pep Guardiola, the former Barcelona coach who signed for Champions League winner Bayern Munich, mastered a one-hour press conference in the Allianz-Arena, live on television in front of a jury of 240 international journalists and, later that same day, thousands of YouTube users.

And he passed the exam! Even if he struggled sometimes with the subtilities of the plural genitive and once in a while turned to Bayern President Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in order to verify whether it was ‘dich’ or ‘dir’, he did a wonderful job. And the dative of the personal pronoun in ‘Bitte gebt mir Zeit!‘ – ‘Please give me some time!’ – was impeccable!

There is something reassuring in the fact that even the long shelf of trophies won with Barcelona and the reputation of being the intellectual mastermind of his former team’s stunning playing style did not preserve this ‘high-end’ migrant from having to learn the language of the place. And it is almost endearing to see that despite globalisation’s rule of airport English, the simple gesture of making the effort has an extraordinary effect on the natives.

Obviously, Guardiola’s net annual salary of 7.5 million Euro is not really representative of the very diverse professional positions of his 30,000 compatriotes who just moved to Germany. At the same time, his arrival is, in a quite funny way, very representative of European demographics: here’s a young, well-educated and highly skilled migrant who replaces … a certainly successful, but already 68-year-old German native who was kind of ‘nudged’ towards retirement. There’s really nothing like football when it comes to providing revealing metaphores on the times we live in!

Albrecht Sonntag, Centre for European Integration, ESSCA School of Management, Angers.

This post was simultaneously published on the FREE Blog