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But museums and dictionaries are feeble defence against globalisation and urbanisation. The best way of keeping the dialects alive would be to use them as a medium of instruction in public schools. But the national government sets the curriculum, so that is unlikely to happen. Parents are a poor substitute for teachers. “The more you make kids speak a language the more they rebel,” says Mr Altenhofen. His 16-year-old daughter is learning Japanese. She wants to study Korean next.

What unites the two countries often seems far more substantial than what divides them—an innate sense of elegance, a passion for gastronomy and proud histories of artistic and intellectual attainment. But all that, says Franco Venturini, is precisely what bedevils their relations. France and Italy both consider themselves the cultural superpower of Europe and the result is reciprocal jealousy. For Mr Venturini, who is a columnist on an Italian daily, Corriere della Sera, but French-educated and an officer of the Légion d’Honneur, the links between the two countries are “very close, yet not characterised by any great love. We’re like two cousins, each of whom thinks she is the prettier.”

Pay restraint put Germany back on track but at a cost. It has left the economy more unbalanced than ever. Exports are super-competitive. In last year’s annual health-check, the IMF said Germany’s real effective exchange rate was undervalued by 10-20%. Consumer spending, meanwhile, remains depressed. Despite abundant jobs growth, the share of GDP going to households has fallen from 65% in the early 1990s to 60% or below, to the benefit of corporate profits (see chart 4). The rate of household saving, however, has not changed much: it is currently 9.8%, exactly in line with its 20-year average.

I would say this is accurate. While I certainly enjoy learning various languages I often do so for my own pleasure rather than for intelligence points. It is rather flustering to be in situations where language learning isn’t adequate to the task. But of course this only serves as more motivation to hit the books with more gusto.