Vocational language courses: an interview with the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF)

Correct as of: 25/09/2023

Anna Lüffe and her colleague Daniel Dwars are responsible for the operational implementation of the vocational language courses at the Federal Office for Migration. They are supported by a team of around 200 employees based in Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, Nuremberg and Stuttgart. Ms Lüffe and Mr Dwars operate at the Cologne site.

1. What is the role of language skills in helping to integrate new immigrants, especially those migrating for work?

Ms Lüffe, BAMF: Language skills are key to integration. This is true not only for integration in everyday life, but also and especially for integration in the workplace. And it makes no difference whether the person is a support worker or a manager. Everyone needs German language skills to do their job, but they vary in level and specialisation. 
In the many years that I have been involved in job-related German language support, I have repeatedly seen immigrants with inadequate German language skills fail in their jobs, even though they had excellent professional skills. This phenomenon is also particularly relevant to the recruitment of skilled workers from abroad. Immigrants who come to Germany with a B1 certificate must consolidate and develop their German language skills here in order to gain a permanent foothold in the labour market. But not only that – the aim of language support is also to enable immigrants to find jobs that match their qualifications. 

2. What is the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees doing to help people learn the language?

Ms Lüffe, BAMF: With its nationwide and comprehensive implementation of integration and vocational language courses, the Federal Office implements the majority of state-funded language courses. The aim of our integration courses is to provide learners with general language skills up to the B1 level, while the vocational language courses generally follow on from these courses and help to prepare learners for the labour market in terms of language skills.

The Federal Office organises and coordinates vocational language courses throughout Germany. The actual courses are run by accredited and qualified providers. Designing new concepts is also part of our ongoing course development process. At the moment, for example, we are developing a course for childcare workers who are currently in the process of having their qualifications recognised. The course will give childcare workers the language skills they need in their day-to-day work and will also be an element in the recognition of vocational qualifications. The aim is therefore not to achieve a higher level of language, but to teach specialist terminology.

Over the past few years, we have taken a very special approach to language support for trainees. As part of a pilot project, the course provider and the vocational school jointly developed approaches based on the language needs of the vocational school, with the aim of providing trainees with language support tailored to their particular training occupation.

International group in an integration course
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3. Who can benefit from these vocational language courses?

Ms Lüffe, BAMF: The vocational language courses are aimed at employees, trainees, people in the recognition process as well as individuals who are registered as unemployed or looking for work. The Federal Office has developed different types of course for different target groups according to their requirements and needs. There are eleven different types of course in total, each with a different objective. The Federal Government provides financial support for participation in the courses. The amount of funding depends on the prerequisites of the participants.

4. What can you do to help companies improve the language skills of their international employees?

Ms Lüffe, BAMF: It is always a challenge to learn the language while working. Existing regular courses are often of no use to employees because they are simply held at inconvenient times. The Federal Office employs around 100 field staff across the country to advise and assist companies in organising a suitable language course. This starts with choosing a suitable language course provider, through to designing the course and planning the course schedule. The choice of course location also plays a role. Incidentally, courses organised in collaboration with a company may also take place on the company’s premises. Hybrid courses – a combination of face-to-face teaching and virtual classrooms – have also been very successful. This format gives us the flexibility we need to design customised courses. Of course, fully online courses are also possible.
However, it is important to note that we always require a certain minimum number of participants. Usually there should be seven people at the start of the course. What’s more, job-related language support requires a certain minimum level of German. In the case of language support provided by the Federal Government, these foundations are laid in the integration course.

5. Do you have any advice for companies who want to help new employees learn German and integrate in general?

Ms Lüffe, BAMF: Employer support is particularly important and therefore crucial to success. Companies should give their employees the time and space they need to learn German. It takes time to learn the language and it doesn’t happen just because everyone around you speaks German. Systematic language acquisition taught by professionally qualified and experienced teachers is essential. It would therefore be ideal if employees could be granted leave of absence to attend German courses. It also helps to create a suitable learning environment so that employees can participate in a virtual course. This could be a computer workstation in the company where the participant can study undisturbed. 
It is also particularly motivating for participants when their line managers show an interest in the German course. And of course, as in any other area, praise for the progress made. 


Thank you for talking to us.
For more information on the structure and costs of vocational language courses, please visit the BAMF website.

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