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With love from France, in German

Paris, Jan. 22 (Reuters): Come and learn German — a language of love!

Hundreds of advertisements in France this week will promote the unusual message to try to woo teenagers to a language they often consider difficult and ugly.

The campaign, launched today on “Franco-German day”, marking a postwar friendship treaty signed on January 22, 1963, is aimed at halting a slump in the number of French students learning German.

Posters in Paris’ subway will show photos of French-German teenage couples kissing and cuddling.

“Pierre is learning German” reads one ad, showing Pierre admiring Tanja, a freckled German girl smiling with braces, who he met while taking language classes in Munich.

“She immediately fell for his charming French accent and he kept it on purpose. Since then, he has returned to France but hasn’t ceased corresponding with her — in German,” say the ads, organised by cultural bodies and the German foreign ministry.

“One hundred million people speak German in Europe — the most-spoken mother tongue,” said Cecile Coutheillas, whose Ailleurs Exactement agency developed the advertisements for Germany’s cultural Goethe-Institut. Marion Haase from Paris’ Goethe-Institut put the cost of developing the ads at 200,000 euros ($250,300) and said other events included hip hop concerts, films and Internet contests.

Ties between France and Germany, powerhouses in the European Union, have become ever closer in recent months as they opposed the war in Iraq and united in debates over EU enlargement.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder asked French President Jacques Chirac to speak for him at an EU summit last year, earning Chirac the description “Jacques alias Gerhard” — only Chirac does not speak Schroeder’s language. Indeed, when Chirac and Schroeder make small talk together, it’s in English. When they get down to business, it’s usually through translators.

But Chirac says he hopes his grandson will learn Goethe’s language, and Berlin and Paris aim to bring up the number of French and Germans speaking the other’s language by 50 per cent over the next 10 years.

“Language is the key to understand a partner, his culture, working manners and lifestyle,” Chirac and Schroeder said in a joint statement yesterday ahead of “Franco-German day”.

With the number of French students picking German as a second foreign language falling to some 15 per cent in 2003 from 35 per cent 15 years ago, fighting prejudices is a priority.

“A lot of my friends say German is hard and sounds ugly,” said student Valentine Guillerm, who hopes being a German-speaker in France will help her in the job market. “It’s also the image of Germany that turns people off. It’s perceived to be strict, serious and no fun,” she said.

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