There are more than 15 million learners of German around the world – most of them in Europe. But there is also a growing interest in the German language on other continents, especially in Africa and Asia. Employers have good reason to welcome this development. Given the shortage of skilled labour, they are keen to attract qualified professionals from abroad. All the more reason for the popularity of professionals who are not only qualified in their field, but also have a working knowledge of German. That said, employers should not only be on the lookout for people who already speak German. With the support of companies and colleagues, employees who have immigrated will also be able to learn German and improve their language skills once they are in Germany. Local support services are available to help with this.
What aspects benefit from language support?
“Do I need to be able to speak German?” is a common question that usually arises more than once during the immigration process. An applicant’s level of language is particularly important for the following aspects:
A certain level of German may be required to apply for a visa. For example, current legislation requires applicants to have a B2 level of German to obtain a visa for the purpose of seeking vocational training (B1 level from 1 March 2024). German language skills at level A2 are normally required to obtain a visa for vocational training; B1 is usually needed for qualified vocational education and training; and, as a rule, at least A2 level is needed to receive a visa for the recognition of foreign qualifications. To find out more about the requirements for each type of visa, read the "Visa section" on Make it in Germany.
Recognition of professional qualifications / authorisation to practise a profession
Anyone wishing to practise a regulated profession in Germany, e.g. teaching or nursing, must have their foreign qualification recognised. In addition to the recognition of qualifications, these and many other regulated professions usually require proof of a certain level of German as part of the authorisation to practise the chosen profession. Further information on the recognition procedure and language certificates can be found on the Anerkennung in Deutschland portal.
When you think about communication in the workplace, the first thing that probably comes to mind is the day-to-day work itself. But even in companies where, for example, English is the working language, knowledge of German can be an asset when it comes to working together. Even if foreign professionals have a good knowledge of German, they may lack some technical terms, for example, if they attended a general German course in their home country that was not related to their profession. Being able to interact informally with colleagues, for example during lunch breaks, will make new employees feel more comfortable. This also requires consideration and openness on the part of the workforce.
Language is often seen as the key to integration in many areas of life. Not only in the labour market, but also in everyday life: it makes it easier to understand documents issued by the authorities, to chat and get to know people on the train or at social events, to get the shopping done faster, and so on and so forth. Speaking German enables migrants to lead self-determined lives. An OECD survey of skilled foreign workers living in Germany confirms that those with an advanced knowledge of German are particularly satisfied with their life in this country. It can be expected that those who feel comfortable in Germany are more likely to stay, which should also be in the interest of employers.
Good to know
Integration courses are a good opportunity for new immigrants with little or no knowledge of German: in addition to learning German for everyday communication, they also attend an orientation course covering aspects such as life in Germany, culture, politics and society. These integration courses, funded by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), are offered by more than 1,300 local language schools. To find out who can take an integration course and where to find one, please refer to the "Learning German" section of the Make it in Germany portal. You can also use the BAMF-NAvI to get an overview of courses and other integration projects in your region.
Evaluating applicants’ German skills
Companies that recruit abroad and receive applications from overseas may find it challenging to assess the German language skills of candidates. What do the numbers and letters mean? And how can you tell if certificates are authentic? The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) is often used to classify language proficiency. The CEFR groups language proficiency in three broad levels A, B and C, each of which consists of two levels. This results in language levels A1 to C2, which are often found on language certificates.
The best way to assess an applicant’s German language skills is to ask for a language certificate from a recognised institute, based on standardised language tests:
Österreichisches Sprachdiplom Deutsch (ÖSD)
TestDaF (German as a Foreign Language, only for CEFR levels B2 and above)
AFU GmbH / ECL (European Consortium for the Certificate of Attainment in Modern Languages).
A good and widely recognised proof of comprehensive knowledge of the German language is the Deutsches Sprachdiplom of the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs, which can be obtained after several years of German lessons at school (e.g. at a German school abroad).
Language skills are fluid! A certificate only reflects the holder’s language skills at a particular time and in a specific test situation. As soon as the person begins to speak German in everyday life or at work, their skills will improve with practice.
Self-testing German skills
If learners of German do not have a current certificate, they can assess their knowledge themselves. There are tools for this: A free self-assessment grid based on the CEFR is available in many languages on the Council of Europe website. A self-test on the Goethe-Institut website provides additional guidance. If (potential) employers want to know how well a candidate communicates, they can, for example, organise a multilingual interview or set short written tasks in German. Creativity is the name of the game!
An overview of language learning opportunities
There are many ways to learn German and to support new employees in their learning process.
German language courses abroad
When preparing for life in Germany, attending German courses is a useful means of preparing for life and work in this country and of bridging waiting periods in the migration process.
The Goethe-Institut is a good port of call. In its role as the cultural institution of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Goethe-Institut is responsible for promoting the German language and culture. It offers German language courses in many locations around the world. To find a Goethe-Institut near them, interested individuals can go to the world map in the “Advisory & contact services” section of the Make it in Germany portal. Applicants are also encouraged to take advantage of the pre-integration programmes (preparation for day-to-day living and the workplace in Germany) offered in many countries. These include courses with regional and intercultural content related to Germany. If the applicant does not have access to a local Goethe-Institut or is unable to attend the course, an alternative provider can be chosen who offers the examination through a recognised test.
German employers who independently recruit skilled workers abroad should find out how they can support their future new employees before they arrive in the country. Often, candidates will not have sufficient funds to participate in qualified learning opportunities. One useful way to promote language learning abroad is to collaborate with language course providers in the region so that prospective skilled workers can attend a German course.
German language courses in Germany
Once they have arrived in Germany, skilled foreign workers are advised to attend a German language course alongside their work in order to continue actively learning the language. Vocational language courses are an option where participants learn German language skills related to the world of work, e.g. for specific occupations or professions, for the recognition of foreign professional qualifications or specifically for trainees – up to CEFR level C2. They can be attended part-time or virtually. The BAMF provides financial support for these courses and helps to organise them. For more information, read the guest article in this issue of our newsletter below. To search for specific offers of integration courses, vocational language courses and other integration measures, use the Federal Employment Agency’s vocational education and training database Kursnet or the BAMF-NAvI. Goethe-Institute offer a range of German courses and examinations, not only abroad but also in Germany. Suitable programmes can also often be found at Carl-Duisberg-Centren or – a more affordable alternative – at the adult education centres throughout Germany. As well as helping with organisational matters, employers should, where possible, give their employees time off to learn the language. After all, it may be difficult to find or organise a course that takes place outside working hours. In addition, skilled workers facing high costs associated with migration will be grateful for any financial contribution from their employer towards the possible costs of a language course.
Employers can also organise in-company German courses, which are usually offered by private providers. The advantage is that the content and design of the course is tailored to the needs of the company and its employees.
Local advisory centres, such as Welcome Centres, often assist not only immigrants but also businesses by providing information on services available in the region.
Online services for access at home and abroad
Websites and smartphone apps are a great way to learn German independently and inexpensively, whatever the location. A number of them are listed below. Employers can make their staff aware of these options.
vhs learning portal: This free learning portal provided by the adult education center offers German courses up to CEFR level B2 as well as a number of specific courses, e.g. for nursing professionals.
Deutsche Welle: Under the heading “Learn German”, Deutsche Welle offers free online German courses, slowly spoken news reports and videos.
Deutschland.de: On the deutschland.de website and the associated app, users can access the latest news and topics about Germany and have them displayed in German and other languages.
Goethe-Institut: The Goethe-Institut offers a wide range of free online resources for learning German.
DaFür: The e-learning portal DaFür (German as a Foreign Language for Integration) teaches basic language skills through online learning modules. These learning modules, which can be accessed online or via smartphone apps, are free to use. At level A1+, a variety of modules are offered on topics such as dealing with authorities, health, shopping, housing, appointments, work and careers, living in Germany and emergency calls.
A new interactive overview of the various offers is available to you on the Make it in Germany portal.
In addition to formal courses and online content, a number of low-threshold options are popular with immigrants. These options help to improve their understanding of the language in everyday life and at work. These include:
Creating vocabulary lists of frequently used words and phrases (e.g. specialist terminology)
Labelling work materials with appropriate terms
Encouraging staff to use simple language and to be aware of barriers to language learning (dialects, speaking speed, foreign words, etc.).
Accessing German music and films: understanding a language can be enhanced by interesting media content.
Language tandems: if two people can be found who both want to learn the other’s language, regular meetings can be arranged to practise and chat together. This can be organised informally with colleagues, among friends, or through clubs and universities.
Language-related leisure activities: language cafés and associations that organise international get-togethers are another good example of how to practise German in an informal setting.
Here, too, creativity and individuality are the name of the game! For an overview of services available in your area, contact a local advisory centre.
E-learning or e-training refers to the use of digital media to impart knowledge and to support learning processes. For example, the Federal Employment Agency (BA) provides online learning resources on intercultural skills and on how to apply for jobs.