Guide to „Learning German“

Learning the German language is one of the most important steps you can take to prepare for your life in Germany. After all, German is spoken in most companies. In addition, your day-to-day life will also be easier to manage if you're able to speak German. Below, you'll find a few tips on where and how to learn German.

Do I need to know German?

► German for students: In order to study at a German university, you need to prove your knowledge of German. To do that, you can sit the "Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang ausländischer Studienbewerber“ (DSH) or the "Test für Deutsch als Fremdsprache" (TestDaf). Since February 12, 2016, the certificate of the exam „telc Deutsch C1 Hochschule” is accepted for admission to a German-language study course. For further information, please refer to the "Studying in Germany" section. Please note that knowledge of English and different admission criteria may be required for many international courses of study. To find out more, please contact your university.

► German for the workplace: The language used at work is often different from the language used in everyday situations. When you're dealing with clients, for example, you'll use different language than when you're talking to your colleagues or manager.  Also, for each profession, there is specialized terminology you'll need to familiarize yourself with. These types of language are taught in German language courses for professionals.

► German for children and adolescents: Your children can participate in special language courses which will let them make new friends, too. In addition to learning the language, the participants can spend additional time together, in sports or cultural events, which will make it easier for your children to settle in. German schools will also support your children in learning German. Please contact your local school to find out about the options available. Additional information about finding a school or preschool for your children is available here.

Depending on what your plans are, you have the option of participating in specialised language courses in your home country – or you may even be required to do so:

►Work in the nursing and healthcare sector: If in Germany, you intend to work as a nursing professional or a doctor, you will need to have your foreign professional qualifications recognised. In addition, you will need to prove your knowledge of German with a certificate from a recognised language centre, such as the Goethe-Institut or a telc-certified institute. The required level of proficiency may vary in the different German states. For further information on having your qualifications recognised, please refer to the Guide to Working in Germany on this portal.

► German for your spouse: If your spouse wants to move to Germany with you, and if they are not from the EU, Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, or Iceland, it is important that they learn the German language, too. At the time of applying for a visa, your spouse will usually need to provide evidence of basic knowledge of German.  If this is required, your spouse should participate in a German language course in your home country. You will usually need to provide evidence that your German skills correspond to level A1 of the European Framework of Reference for Languages.  At the Goethe-Institut, this would correspond to the Start 1 course. You may of course choose to learn German by yourself and sit an exam with a certified language centre. The Goethe-Institut provides an overview of its own learning centres and schedules. A list of other language centres can be found on the telc website. Additional information on having your spouse move to Germany with you is available at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. If your spouse is in possession of an EU Blue Card, they will not need to prove their ability to speak German when they apply for a visa.

Language classes

Both in Germany and in your home country, a language course is an effective way of learning German. In Germany, you can find language courses for all levels, ranging from complete beginners to very advance learners. If you know some German already, language centres will let you take a test which tells you what your level of proficiency is. On that basis, you can then proceed with your studies.German language centres organize their courses along what is known as the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEF). It defines the following reference levels:

  • In courses at A1 and A2 level, beginners will learn the basics of the German language. So, if you're taking up German for the first time, you should start with an A1 course.
  • B1 and B2 courses are intended for more advanced learners. In these courses, you will expand your knowledge of German. Once you have completed your B2 course, you'll be able to communicate in an independent and differentiated way in everyday life and at work.
  • C1 and C2 are the most advanced levels. Once you have completed these courses, you'll be able to speak German almost as well as people who've grown up with the language.

In the language courses, you'll learn to speak, understand, read and write German. In addition, you'll also find out more about Germany and the Germans.

Duration & cost

The duration of German language courses varies, so that you're certain to find one that suits your requirements. Intensive courses may last for a week or several weeks, other courses may take a whole semester. Depending on the type of course, you will spend several hours per week or even per day in class or on homework. If you work during the day, you may choose an evening course. Alternatively, you can visit Germany on holiday and do a language course then.

You also need to think about whether you prefer to study alone or with others. Learning in a group means that you can talk to your fellow students, and group language courses are usually cheaper, too. Individual classes are tailored to your individual requirements, but are often more expensive. You will usually be able to choose what time you'd like your class to start, so that you can study before you start work or right after you finish, for example. 

Prices for language courses depend on the type of course and the country where you want to study. Your best bet is to contact language centres directly and inquire about the cost. If you're moving to Germany because of work, you can ask your employer whether they're prepared to pay for your course.

Most language courses end with an exam which you need to pass before you can move on to the next level. You may need to take additional exams, too. You're well advised to find out beforehand whether the exam is subject to a fee. 

Even if you don't need to prove your knowledge of German for your job, German language qualifications will improve your chances as you apply and look good on your CV. Prospective employers will see that you are committed and have made an effort to learn German.

Language centres

There are many different types of language centres. Examples include:

► Goethe-Institut: The Goethe-Institut of the Federal Republic of Germany is a cultural association which is aimed at promoting knowledge of the German language and culture. For this purpose, the Goethe-Institut offers German language courses at 160 sites in Germany and abroad. To find out where your nearest Goethe-Institut is, click on our "local contacts" map.

► Integration course centres: If you're already in Germany, you may need to participate in an Integration course, which are available at more than 1,300 language schools in Germany and supported by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). In these courses, you can learn German, find out about German culture and obtain many practical tips for everyday life in Germany. Integration courses last a minimum of 660 hours. Of these, you spend 600 hours learning German, and the remaining 60 hours are devoted to learning about German history, culture and the legal system. Specialised integration courses may last 960 hours. Further information on who is eligible for these courses and the cost involved is available here.

► Providors of work-related language courses: The Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) offers vocational language courses which address migrants, EU-citizens and Germans with migration background. Requirements for participation are either a completed Integration course or language level B1 in German. The vocational language courses are supposed to facilitate the participant’s career start and everyday work life. The basic module teaches you general German language skills for your work life and the special modules help you to enhance your specialised professional vocabulary. The courses are provided nationwide at affordable fees. You can find further information on the vocational language courses on the website of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.

► Carl Duisberg Centres: The non-profit Carl Duisberg Centres offer work-related German language courses.

► Volkshochschulen: Volkshochschulen are adult learning centres which offer low-cost German courses in most German cities. Please refer to the the Volkshochschule website to find out where your nearest Volkshochschule is and which kind of courses it offers. 

Other language centres: The data base of the Fachverband für Deutsch als Fremdsprache provides information on courses offered by other public and private language centres in Germany.

Courses for your children are available as well, as German classes are offered for people of every age. Some classes are tailored to the interests and language skills of children and young people. This is important: When young children begin learning German immediately, it is easier for them to adapt to their new environment, make new friends and start to feel at home in Germany. Further details are available here.

Other learning opportunities

Traditional language courses are not the only way to learn German. If you find that there is no suitable course where you stay, or if you prefer to study by yourself, you can choose from many other ways to learn German which will give you an idea of what the German language is like. You can also use these alternative options if you want to expand on the German skills you have acquired in a course.

E-learning: On the road, in your lunch break or on your sofa at night time – E-learning will let you learn German anywhere. We have listed a number of E-learning providers in our article on "German online".

Language tandem: Learn a new language and teach someone else your own language! That's how language tandems work. An example: You're Italian, and you would like to learn German. Why don't you find a German who would like to learn Italian? Learning languages in a relaxed environment is fun, and also you'll find out a lot about other people and cultures. Tandems are organized at many universities and associations and also by private providers. The University of Bochum has even set up a platform where you can find a tandem partner to study with online.

► Film, television and radio: There are many German films and radio programmes which will let you improve your German. Deutsche Welle, Germany's international broadcaster, publishes numerous radio programmes to help you learn German, such as news read out slowly. Similarly, Deutsche Welle TV broadcasts many different TV programmes which will let you expand your knowledge of German. In the libraries of many Goethe-Instituts, you can watch German films or borrow them to take home.  To find out where your nearest Goethe-Institut is, click on our "local contacts" map. 

► Web sites, newspapers, magazines and books: To practise reading German and expand your vocabulary, you can visit German sites on the Internet. Alternatively, you can read German newspapers, magazines and books. The Goethe-Institut usually has a large selection of various media which you can either read there or take home with you. To find out where your nearest Goethe-Institut is, click on our "local contacts" map.

German online

No matter whether you've already completed a German course, or whether you've just started: There are many websites which will let you catch a glimpse of what German is like or expand your knowledge. After all, a German saying is: "Übung macht den Meister" – or practice makes perfect. On many platforms, you can choose content depending on what you want to study and what level you're at. The Goethe-Institut offers free ways to test your German skills. Why don't you take an interactive journey through Germany or test your knowledge of everyday German, for example? A few tips are available here:

► Vocabulary trainer: Even when you're on the road, you can use the Vokabeltrainer Application to expand your vocabulary or participate in one of the adventure games. 

Community: Alternatively, you can register for free with the "Deutsch für dich" community. Here, you can play interactive learning games and chat to experts or other users. 

Multimedia blog: On the "Mein Weg nach Deutschland" Internet portal you can use photos, films, games and exercises to practise your German, discuss interesting topics with other learners of German and meet other people in the "Treffpunkt" category.  

German at the workplace: The wide range of free online tasks and exercises on the platform allow you to improve your knowledge of the language and customs at the workplace in Germany.

Arabterm: The online dictionary Arabterm provides a sypnosis of terms used in technical fields in four languages: German, English, French and Arabic. Use the tool to learn basic technical terms especially those from the electrical, renewable energy and automotive engineering.

On the Deutsche Welle website, you can find out what's new in Germany and the world. In addition, many other activities, some of which are interactive, will let you practise and expand your German, depending on your level.

► Placement test: Once you have registered free of charge, you can take the Einstufungstest to find out what your current level is and expand on it using exercises that are tailored to your requirements. 

Audio trainer: With the Audiotrainer you can learn new vocabulary and improve your pronunciation.

Telenovela: The telenovela „Jojo sucht das Glück" includes interactive exercises aimed at improving your grammar and colloquial language skills. In addition, you'll find out interesting facts about Germany and its people.

A more detailed overview of the various multi-media learning activities offered by Deutsche Welle is available here. The site is available in 30 different languages.

You speak English but you're unsure about your German skills? No problem! The BBC has an English-language site which provides information and tips for learning German.

English-language placement test: The placement test will give you an idea of your current German skills. 

► Phrases: An audiovisual list of German key terms and everyday phrases will help you master your first couple of steps as you embark on life in Germany.

Videos: The BBC videos on the German language are equally entertaining.

Information on this portal

Find out how you can learn German

Find the Goethe-Institut nearest to you.

Information on the World Wide Web

German Academic Exchange Service

Information about language courses, exams and placement tests (German)



Carl Duisberg Centres

German language courses for adults and youths in Germany (i. a. German, English, Chinese, French, Russian, Spanish, Turkish)

Deutsche Welle

Free German language courses by the German international broadcaster (German, English, French, Spanish, etc.)

Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs

Information on learning German for the workplace (German, English)

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