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Originally published Thursday, February 25, 2010 at 8:21 AM

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Germany to promote `language of ideas"

Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Well, you should, at least according to Germany's foreign minister.

Associated Press Writer

BERLIN —

Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Well, you should, at least according to Germany's foreign minister.

Guido Westerwelle drew plenty of sarcastic remarks when he insisted on speaking German to a British reporter just after his election to parliament four months ago. Now, he's making it his official mission to promote his mother tongue.

"German is the language at the heart of Europe," Westerwelle said in a somewhat poetic statement Thursday at the outset of his new global campaign for the so-called "Language of Ideas," and he came up with reasons to learn German.

"It is the key to more than 350 German universities and colleges, to Europe's largest economy," Westerwelle said. "It grants access to German literature, music, philosophy, and science, to the wealth of great European cultural traditions and, not least, it is the key to realizing one's own goals and ideas."

Europe counts about 101 million native German speakers, according to the Foreign Ministry, and some 14.5 million people outside the country are studying the language.

That number is down, however, from about 17 million only three years ago, and Berlin is noting, with some alarm, the increasing importance of English as well as efforts by Spain and China to promote their respective languages.

The new campaign aims to combine and highlight the multitude of existing language teaching and cultural projects - without actually spending more than the euro300 million ($406 million) provided by the government in 2009.

They want to inspire young people worldwide to take up German and "to motivate decision makers in politics, education, business, and the media within Germany and outside to promote German as a foreign language," the ministry said in a statement.

Westerwelle has stressed the beauty of German repeatedly ever since a somewhat notorious press conference in late September, when a BBC reporter asked him if, possibly, the foreign minister to be would answer a question in English.

Westerwelle, who can speak English, rebuffed the request saying: "Just like it goes without saying that English is spoken in Great Britain it is customary to speak German in Germany."

He offered to meet the reporter for tea and speak English there but added that "this is Germany."

A few days later he said only German should be used at official events in Germany as "the German language is very beautiful."

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Germany, like France, has seen occasional efforts to ban English language imports such as "rent-a-bike," "ticket counter," or "coffee shop."

Earlier this month, Deutsche Bahn, the national railway - which routinely provides announcements in German and in a form of almost indecipherable English - pledged to weed out some of its borrowed vocabulary such as "kiss & ride" and "call-a-bike" after Ernst Hinsken, a Bavarian member of Germany's parliament, complained.

Deutsche Bahn told Hinsken in a letter quoted by German media that the company recognizes the need to cut down on the use of anglicisms.

While most Germans study English in school and often resort to the global language, some foreigners seem to go along with Westerwelle's take on German.

"I like German. It is amazing, it is so rational and it makes so much sense," said Inara Vaz from Sao Paulo, Brazil, who has been studying German in Berlin for a year.

She said she is still struggling, not so much with grammar, but with expanding her vocabulary. Nonetheless, it seems to be worth her while.

"It is a beautiful language, it is deeper than any other language I know," she said, a flattering declaration considering she speaks not only Italian, Portuguese and Spanish, but English, too.

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