Preparing Immigrants For Life In Germany – Promoting Integration
For decades, the Goethe-Institut and its centres around the world have been the main point of contact for anyone wishing to prepare for a shorter or longer stay in Germany. Since the law was amended in 2007, the Goethe-Institut has utilised this expertise and experience to provide services for people wishing to join their partners in Germany within the framework of family reunification, who are now required to demonstrate that they have attained the A1 level of German language proficiency. This has required the Goethe-Institut’s language departments abroad to focus on new target groups, who will be using their German language skills in very different settings than, say, an academic who comes to Germany for a term to carry out research. Our many years of experience as a language course provider for German as a second language in Germany itself have proved invaluable in addressing this new challenge. The Goethe-Institut sees pre-integration language teaching as an opportunity to combine its commitment to supporting immigrants in Germany with services for prospective migrants who are still living in the countries of origin, thus creating synergies between these two areas of work.
For the Goethe-Institut, the major challenge is to ensure that the requirement to provide evidence of language skills does not become a bureaucratic obstacle which destroys many people’s life plans. Instead, we want to utilise it as an opportunity for prospective migrants in the countries of origin to take a major step towards their later successful integration in Germany. Since 2007, with financial support from the European Integration Fund (EIF) and the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), among others, the Goethe-Institut has therefore developed a large portfolio of language and other courses tailored specifically to the needs of this new target group (for more information, please see the double-page spread overleaf). We believe that to help prospective migrants in the countries of origin take a first step towards integration in Germany, we need to do much more than simply provide an introduction to the German language. So in our courses, and via our additional target-group-specific services, which are free of charge, we give them basic practical information about life in Germany. For some of our students, it may be their first experience of being taught in a classroom setting for many years. They have the chance to share their experiences with other people in a similar life situation while acquiring skills that they are likely to need in Germany. Of course, many other factors will determine whether or not their integration in Germany is ultimately successful, but our courses give them a good start.
The Goethe-Institut’s commitment has paid off. It has made a significant contribution to bringing the number of visas issued back up to around 40,000 annually – close to the average level before the language requirement was introduced. However, there is no disputing that for some people, the language requirement can have devastating consequences – especially for those who find it impossible to reach the level of competence required to pass the examination, or can only do so with tremendous personal effort, and whose circumstances do not qualify them under the hardship rules. With its high-quality courses, dedication and commitment, the Goethe-Institut aims to keep their numbers as low as possible. We firmly believe that withdrawing from this area of work and leaving the people who need support to cope on their own is simply not an option. We also believe it is important to continue to support the prospective migrants after they have taken the language examination. How can we ensure that their new language skills are not forgotten in the many months that pass between taking the test in the home country and arriving in Germany? How can we ensure that they do not have to start again from zero when they join the integration course in Germany? And after they have taken the exam, how can we continue to help them prepare for life in Germany?
A research project commissioned by the Goethe-Institut in 2011, with funding from the EIF and the BAMF, now provides evidence for the first time that there is indeed a risk that prospective migrants’ language skills will diminish considerably during the lengthy period between taking the examination in the home country and the start of the integration course in Germany. When they join the integration courses, most of them go right back to the beginning and start from zero. If significantly reducing this transition period would not appear to be a realistic prospect, for various reasons, then it is essential to increase the amount of support available to spouses during this period. This must include helping them to maintain their language skills and providing information and advice to prepare for their future life in Germany. It would also seem sensible to help them maintain the initial contacts with Germany that they make during the course, so that their transition into life in Germany is as smooth as possible.
Over the coming years, the Goethe-Institut is therefore planning to make services to ease this transition a key focus of its activities. These services will centre on an interactive, community-based Internet platform developed specifically for this target group. It will provide language training and information about Germany, facilitate communication, and offer advisory services for use during the transition period. The platform will also be networked with other information sites in Germany. Participants attending Goethe-Institut courses in their home countries will be encouraged to use the platform so that after completing the course, they can continue to access it during the transition period – for independent learning, to obtain information about life in Germany or simply to share experiences with other people.
Goethe-Institut, Language and Integration Project