Preface by Prof. Dr. h.c. Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, President of the Goethe-Institut
Our many years of experience as a language course and training provider for German as a second language, and our key role in developing the Framework Curriculum for Integration Courses in Germany and the final examination for these courses, the Deutschtest für Zuwanderer (German Test for Immigrants), were a good basis for our institutes abroad to respond swiftly to the new legislation and its implications. Our task was to adapt our courses and examinations to the specific needs of a new target group: immigrating spouses. Whereas previously, most of our clients were academics, our courses were now attracting interest from people from many different walks of life and educational backgrounds – some of whom had little experience of learning a foreign language. Demand for our information and advisory services also increased, which meant that here too, we had to expand and, in some cases, rethink our offer. At some of our centres, our human resources and physical capacities quickly reached their limits. We responded by recruiting more staff, trained them to deal with a new set of professional challenges, and rented extra classrooms in some cases. In a number of countries, we set up new partnership structures in order to be able to meet the demand for German courses and examinations in full. Looking back, it is clear that over the last few years, the Goethe-Institut itself has been on a steep learning curve. The innovations have become the norm: pre-integration language teaching, examinations and advisory services are now a core element of our service portfolio.
For immigrants, learning German can have a profound effect. It conveys an impression of the country where they have chosen to make their new home and the people who live there. Most of all, it helps them integrate. However, the new legislation also confronts spouses with various personal challenges. It has extended the visa process and has financial implications. And of course, there is the challenge of learning a new language.
Since the new legislation came into force, around 170,000 people have taken the Start Deutsch 1 examination in order to qualify for a visa. These 170,000 people hoped that passing the exam would bring them a step closer to their goal: a shared future with their spouse in Germany. 62% finally passed the examination. The pass rate among candidates who had attended the Goethe-Institut’s courses was 74% – confirmation that our method of teaching German to immigrating spouses is the right one, especially as the pass rate at our institutes has risen every year since the Immigration Act was amended.
However, these figures don’t tell us anything about the people themselves. They don’t tell us about their life histories or their feelings and experiences before and after taking the examination. They don’t tell us about the commitment and effort they had to make. Above all, they don’t tell us what they learned from our courses, both personally and in preparing for a new life in Germany. We were keen to get some answers – and to find out more about the love stories and the life stories behind the statistics. Our search took us to many different places – to Izmir, Casablanca, Yaoundé, Sarajevo, Bangkok and Germany itself. We came across some astonishing and sometimes deeply moving life stories from people who have decided – for many different reasons, and sometimes with a heavy heart – to turn their back on their home country and make a new life for themselves with their partner in Germany. These are their stories.