The Value of English for Berlin Startups

By now, you may have heard the remarks made by German CDU politician, Jens Spahn, on foreigners in Germany needing to speak German. Blacklane’s CEO, Jens Wohltorf, was asked by the German startup magazine Gründerszene to comment.

“I agree on the importance of learning German to integrate into society. That’s why Blacklane provides free German language classes for every employee.

But this is a private decision for each person. In professional environments, German language is only an advantage, not a necessity. If Blacklane held to a German-only mindset, our success would have been impossible. An English-speaking office has been essential to accelerate our growth.

As we expanded to more than 50 countries worldwide, we needed a diverse, multi-cultural team. Only English permits us to build an environment and understanding across so many backgrounds.

Therefore, such statements and attitudes are worse than not helping. They actively harm the development of Berlin’s digital ecosystem.

If these were our country’s primary views, skilled workers from non-German-speaking countries would feel unwelcome. They would likely choose companies in Silicon Valley or other tech hubs. Germany’s startup scene would fall further behind other regions.

These statements also pour gas onto the fire around the unspoken discrimination that non-Germans face trying to find flats in Berlin. Too many talented and gainfully employed workers fail to find living space, even though they can afford rent.

In contrast to such an isolating approach, German politicians should further develop an international perspective. For example, we should teach English even stronger and from even early ages in school. Germany has the resources, if we use them, to create an open society and long-lasting competitive advantage.”

Read the whole German-language article here. Let us know what your thoughts are on this debate by commenting below!