Life as a newcomer: German language (Part 2) | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 10.06.2017
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Refugees in Germany

Life as a newcomer: German language (Part 2)

Asylum seekers lacking language skills have poor chances in the job market and earn less. The German language is essential in finding an apartment, participating in society and pursuing an education.

The number of participants in integration courses has sharply risen since 2015. The influx of refugees coming to Germany has resulted in many new courses being offered, often on a fast-track. Yet acquiring another language is a big challenge for many refugees. 

So-called "integration courses" are being offered since 2005, which in addition to 100 hour orientation courses, include language classes. In around 600 classroom hours, the students are expected to reach level B1 of the European Reference for languages. That means that after the course, the participants are expected to be able to understand a slowly spoken conversation, communicate in simple sentences and understand everyday texts.

Who is allowed and who must participate in an integration course? That has changed considerably  over the past years: asylum seekers and those with a "tolerated right to stay" were excluded from the courses until 2015 as the condition for participation was a residence permit. Since October 2015, asylum seekers and people who have been granted temporary stay and who have a good chance of remaining in Germany are allowed to participate in the courses. That includes people from Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, Iran and Somalia. 

If asylum has been granted, the integration courses are an obligation for refugees - provided that a German city's foreigners office has commissioned it. The courses are offered everywhere in the country - whether it be by adult education centers, welfare associations, clubs or private institutions. 

The number of people who have taken an integration course in recent years has risen rapidly and is growing in parallel with the growing number of immigrants.  The number of those entitled to attend a course rose from around 280,000 in 2015 to 530,000 last year. The number of actual students has also doubled. How is there a difference between those entitled to attend a course and the actual number of participants? A possible explanation: not everyone who is entitled to attend a course will also receive a place on time. Waiting times are planned to be shorter. The goal is to get a seat after about six weeks of waiting time, according the German Office for Migration and Refugees, known as the BAMF in German.  

Completion exam is too difficult for many

The course ends with the so-called "German Test for Immigrants." Around 58 percent of people in 2016 passed this exam. This was a little bit less than the year before with 60 percent. Older participants in the courses find it especially difficult to learn a completely new language. Qatneh, for example, moved to the Eastern German state of Saxony two years ago to be with her children who were already there. In Syria she never learned how to read and write, which made it especially difficult to follow the lessons. 

Few Afghan participants 

Most participants in the German courses are Syrian – almost half in 2016. That is almost twice as many as the year before. This means that many of the Syrians who came in summer and fall 2015 received a place in the courses in 2016. In second and third place are Iraqis and Eritreans. 

What's striking is that EU citizens are also very interested – especially people from Romania, Poland, Bulgaria and Italy. They are not entitled to take part, but can participate if they want to learn German and if there are enough places available. Another peculiarity, although, is that around 127,000 Afghans applied for asylum in 2016, making them the largest group of asylum seekers after the Syrians, they hardly show up in the statistics of the integration courses.

The reason is that they don't have a good chance to remain in Germany and have a lower priority in such courses. Their asylum procedures continue but they are not entitled to a place in the course.  This is despite the fact that many of them will certainly live for many years in Germany and will require attention, because the illiteracy rate is high among Afghans. According to the German Foreign Office, there’s a 90 percent illiteracy rate in Afghanistan’s rural areas. 

Demand has risen enormously  

Due to the high demand, the number of integration courses in 2016 has significantly increased by about 70 percent over the previous year. Altogether around 20,000 courses were offered. In addition to integration courses, there are German courses offered by volunteers across the country, whether they be in schools, local communities, cafes or reception centers. Refugee students can also enroll in German courses through the "Garantiesfonds Hochschule" federal program. For people who can't read or write, special courses aimed towards illiterate students are also be offered. 

Read part 1 here: Arrival
Read part 3 here: Education
Read part 4 here: Finding work
Read part 5 here: Who can stay?

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