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German Language : German for university and everyday life

Good German language skills can help you feel more at home in Germany. Your skill level should be sufficient to understand lectures and participate in discussion in university seminars. You are required to have very good English skills if you wish to enrol in an English-language degree programme.

by the Editors

Students with a dictionary © Hagenguth/DAAD
Students with a dictionary . © Hagenguth/DAAD

The language level required for admission to university depends on your degree programme and the university itself. No prior German language knowledge is necessary if you enrol in an English-language degree programme, but you do need very good English skills. As for German-language degree programmes, you usually need better German language skills for humanities than for scientific subjects – especially when it comes to speaking and writing.

Your language level must be sufficient to understand lectures and participate in discussions in seminars. You have to be able to understand theoretical texts. You should also be able to discuss scientific topics in an appropriate manner and explain and analyse them in written form.

You can find more information about language requirements for German-language degree programmes in German skills and German tests.

But German is not only important for your studies. Even if you are enrolled in an English-language degree programme and hardly use German at university, it’s definitely worth learning the language of your host country. You will feel more at home in Germany if you have good language skills. Knowing German can help you get settled in faster, participate more intensively in German life and make friends much easier.

Facebook-Fan Hasham Munit from Pakistan with Germans in garbs © Hasham Munit/DAAD
Facebook-Fan Hasham Munit from Pakistan with Germans in garbs . © Hasham Munit/DAAD

Dialects

As with all languages, there are regional differences in pronunciation and intonation in Germany. Residents of the Rhineland speak differently than those in Bavaria. People in Berlin speak differently than people in Hamburg. There are even variations in dialect between villages in the same region!  

Practically all of the courses you attend at German university will be held in “Hochdeutsch (High German). But even then, you might come across professors or fellow students who speak a dialect. Many people consciously cultivate their dialects because they’re proud of the region where they grew up.

Most people make an honest effort to speak “Hochdeutsch” to foreigners. However, there are many native speakers who are simply unaware that their German sounds different than the German you hear on the CDs in your language books. But don’t worry – you will quickly become familiar with the German spoken in your region. And if you don’t understand something right away or can’t make yourself understood on the first attempt, it’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

Language courses

There are many ways of learning or improving your German in Germany. Universities offer language courses parallel to their degree programmes. There are numerous summer courses at universities throughout Germany which can help you improve your language skills for university study. These usually take place between June and September and offer German language courses at various levels. To view a list of upcoming courses, check out the DAAD database for Language and Short Courses.

For more information about learning German, read the section on German skills.

Language tandems

A language tandem is a great way of improving your German. In a tandem, two people get together to learn and speak one another’s native tongue. You meet on a regular basis and practice speaking one language for a while, and then the other. At many universities, the International Office, international student organisations or the student council keep a list of names of people who are interested in starting language tandems.

Student taking a test © Hagenguth/DAAD
Student taking a test . © Hagenguth/DAAD

Tests

The levels of language courses in Germany coincide with the levels of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. There are six levels of proficiency – from basic user (A1) to proficient user (C2). If you wish to assess how good your language ability is, you can test it yourself. The Goethe-Institut offers a short, free assessment test. After completing it, you receive a recommendation for the course level you require.

If you wish to obtain a more accurate assessment and prove your ability with a certificate, you can take the onSET-Deutsch (formerly OnDaF). This test can tell you whether your language ability is sufficient for passing the TestDaF.
Participation in the onSET-Deutsch placement test is free of charge for registered refugees. You can take the test on any PC with Internet access – even at home. There are two different versions, based on how good your German skills are.

There is also an English placement test called onSET-English which you can take for free as well.

For both tests it’s important that you provide proof of your refugee status. You can fulfil this requirement by holding one of the following residence titles:

  • Persons with a BüMA/Proof of Arrival (asylum-seeker registration certificate prior to application in accordance with §63a AsylG)
  • Asylum seekers (process pending - temporary residence permit in accordance with §55 AsylVfG)
  • Tolerated persons (temporary suspension of deportation - tolerance permit in accordance with §60a AufenthG)
  • Refugees with right to asylum in accordance with Art. 16a GG/ GFK (residence permit in accordance with §25 par. 1 AufenthG)
  • Recognised refugees in accordance with § 3 AsylVfG (residence permit in accordance with §25 par.2 S.1/1. AufenthG)
  • Persons granted subsidiary protection in accordance with § 4 AsylVfG (residence permit in accordance with §25 par.2 S.1/2. AufenthG)
  • Persons granted deportation protection in accordance with § 60 par. 5 and 7 AufenthG (residence permit in accordance with §25 par.3 AufenthG)
  • Persons with a residence permit in accordance with § 22 S. 1 and 2, §23 par. 1 and 2, § 24 and § 25 par. 5 AufenthG
  • Family members (parents, children, spouses), who have joined recognised refugees or asylum seekers as defined under the Geneva Convention or those granted subsidiary protection, may also participate in the free review process if they can provide proof that the “principal” person (the first to be granted refugee status) has a residence permit  

You can prove your status with a copy of your certificate of arrival, your temporary or standard residence permit, or soon with a copy of your refugee ID card.

More information