Chinese and Germans are becoming increasingly interested in each other's mother tongues - a phenomenon that speaks volumes about their growing mutual interest, and can increasingly do so in both German and Mandarin (Putonghua).
"If I hadn't chosen to learn this language, I wouldn't be able to be friends with the German people I've met," Tang Lulu, a 20-year-old German studies major at the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) in Beijing, said.
And she said what she had learned about them surprised her.
"They're quite different from how I thought. A lot of Chinese people think of Germans as always being on time, but that's not true," Tang said, laughing and pointing to her German instructor Tobias Galts, who is also a Chinese-language student at UIBE.
"And many people maybe think Germans are very serious and have little sense of humor, but I don't think so," she said, eliciting a laugh from Galts.
According to China's Ministry of Education, there are currently 1,280 German students in China, making Germany the seventh largest contributor of study-abroad students.
Daniela Bhme, director of the Shanghai branch of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) - the largest organization for international exchange between the two countries - said her organization subsidizes up to 1,400 German students' studies in China every year.
Bhme said there are currently 26,000 Chinese students in Germany, making up one-tenth of its international student population.
A report by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, entitled "Internationalization of Higher Education: Foreign Students in Germany, German Students Abroad", said: "With nearly 12 percent of the mobile foreign student population, China is the undisputed leader, with nearly twice as many mobile foreign students as Poland, the second leading country of origin."
Bhme said: "Germany is still a very attractive place to study.
"Compared to many other countries, our study fees are a maximum of 500 euros per term. And 60 percent of provinces don't ask for study fees at all.
"Germany sees international students not on a commercial level but as future multipliers for international projects," she said. And per educational agreements between the two governments, China recognizes most degrees earned in Germany.
"I would be eager to visit Germany someday, because I think it is a great country, so I took German as my major," UIBE student Ting Ting, from Hubei, who also studies under Galts, said.
Galts said he was first drawn to Putonghua because it was challenging. Over time, he came to love China.
"I really want to do something in China in the future; I'd like to work here and live here," Galts said.
"There's also a personal reason; my girlfriend is Chinese."
But the couple doesn't spend much time together these days; while the German is studying Chinese in China, his girlfriend is studying German in Germany.
While Galts' interest in Putonghua stemmed from a passion for linguistics, many Germans are now interested in learning Chinese because of the ongoing economic miracle and increasing integration of the two country's economies. This is demonstrated by the fact the German Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai lists more than 1,000 German firms in Shanghai alone.
(China Daily September 7, 2007)