Germany's Strange, Tongue-Painting Ad Campaign

An unconventional way to convince immigrants to learn the country's language

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Germany's been having some issues with multiculturalism, immigration, and assimilation lately. Well, not so lately: the guest worker program that brought Italians and Turks into the country actually began in the mid-twentieth century. But in recent months, the director of Germany's central bank sparked a furor with a treatise on the threat of Muslim immigrants. A month later, Chancellor Angela Merkel declared multiculturalism in Germany a "failure," saying immigrants needed to do more to integrate. Now, an ad campaign is being rolled out to encourage immigrants to learn German. Celebrities appear with their tongues stuck out, painted in bright yellow, black and red--the colors of the German flag.

"Out with language, in with life" or "speak out, get into life" are the rough translations of the slogan. Unsurprisingly, the campaign has raised some eyebrows. The campaign ("ich spreche Deutsch" = "I speak German")--offers a drop-down menu where visitors can choose their city and find a German course.

  • Nice Campaign--How About Some German Courses for Everyone?  Mely Kiyak points out at the Frankfurter Rundschau that the government's "integration courses [offered] are only for newcomers that have come [to Germany] since 2005." Those who have lived in Germany for "decades"  have "no claim" to the courses. Meanwhile, the other German courses (including the ones featured on the site) are geared at students, involving 20 hours of study per week and fees at 450 euros per month. After calling a number of schools pretending to have a 55-year-old mother who has lived in Germany for decades but wishes to actually learn the language, and finding no course that could serve her, Kiyak is left decidedly skeptical of the value of the ad campaign.
  • This Message Is Garbled  "The stuck-out tongue is taken--at least in our culture--as a symbol of malice and contempt," observes Michael Paulwitz, writing at Junge Freiheit. He also points out that the second half of the slogan on the posters, "rein ins Leben" (roughly translated as "into life" or "get into life") actually demands a level of familiarity with German that the targets of the posters may not have. "Rein" also means "clean"; all schoolchildren are going to be able to figure out, he argues, is that people are sticking their tongues out--and they might even get the idea that it's a soap advertisement.
  • No Kidding  "Aesthetically and semiotically," comments Andreas Bernard in the Süddeutsche Zeitung's magazine, "this campaign is an exceptional mystery. ... Einstein, the Rolling Stones and Pippi Longstockings" all seem to agree on the stuck-out tongue as a symbol of "dissidence," he argues. Also, he adds, "the second association with this gesture, the doctor's visit for coughing and flu symptoms, doesn't make this poster any more comprehensible." He suggests the sentence associated with the someone sticking out their tongue with a German flag on it is more along the lines of "I've had it up to here with Germany."
  • How About Starting by Removing 'Chocolate Mocha' from the German Starbucks?  With all the anglicisms on offer in Germany, argues Die Welt's Günther Lachmann, English-speaking tourists, for example, might well feel "they could just as well have stayed at home." His point: Germans need to be consistent and try practicing what they preach. "When ... even Germans needlessly place English before their own language, how do they expect to tell immigrants that they must learn German?"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.