“We Have a New Target Group”
For the Goethe-Institut, this rule has resulted in a considerable rise in the number of people wishing to take their Start Deutsch 1 certificate, and in more learners of German in the beginners’ courses. Heinrich Stricker, head of the language courses and tests department at the Goethe-Institut, talks about the effects the changed immigration law has had on language courses.
What has changed in your work and in the language courses run by the Goethe-Institut since the law was introduced?
The biggest change is certainly the fact that we now have an entirely new target group, namely spouses wishing to learn German. Previously, we tended to have one type of client at our Goethe-Institut branches abroad – people planning to spend a specific period of time in Germany. Now we are dealing with a group of people who are moving permanently to Germany; their expectations, and their background, are quite different.
What have you done to prepare for this new challenge?
First of all, we had to make a sufficiently wide range of courses and tests available to meet the new demand. In Ankara, for example, an examination centre able to handle 1,000 tests per month was set up in the space of just three months. As far as the courses on offer are concerned, course models needed to be developed and introduced as quickly as possible; these had to reflect the requirements of the new target group, such as intensive courses at different times of day or weekend courses for people who work. To make it possible and easier for people in more remote areas to learn German too, our network of partner schools and any other facilities offering German language services had to be expanded in the shortest possible time.
We were supported in our efforts by grants provided by the European Integration Fund and by the Federal Ministry of the Interior. This allowed us to undertake a series of accompanying measures, including above all an improved advice and information service, which has proved very popular with our target group.
What is the role of the Goethe-Institut headquarters in Germany as far as these new challenges are concerned?
First of all, headquarters needed to make sufficient test questions available to allow testing with varied material to be carried out at short intervals.
At the same time, we must increasingly involve the new target group in the trial phase to ensure that the tests reflect the reality of the migrants’ lives. What is more, headquarters must be able to guarantee at all times that the tests are conducted according to uniform standards worldwide.
What additional training is available for teachers of these pre-integration language courses?
Monitoring the quality of the language courses outside Germany is also an important job of headquarters. We quickly found that the new target group comes to the courses with little experience of learning a foreign language, so the style of teaching and methods employed in these courses must be somewhat different. For this reason, we ran an initial two-week basic seminar for teachers of immigrant courses just three months after the new law was introduced, and have since already run four other central seminars. The teachers we train have a multiplier role in their countries, passing on their knowledge both to their colleagues at the Goethe-Institut and to the teachers of other language course providers.
What exactly are the activities pursued by the international Goethe-Instituts in this area?
Telephone hotlines and consultation hours have been introduced at the international branches of the Goethe-Institut. Experienced teachers provide spouses preparing to join their partners in Germany with concrete advice about the right courses to attend; private schools can also obtain information and tips for their lessons. A particular service offered by the Goethe-Institut branches in Turkey is psychological and sociopedagogical counselling.
Many of the spouses moving to Germany to join their partners have little or no experience of learning languages or taking exams. Consequently, many of our international institutes offer free remedial courses in the afternoons or on Saturdays to help tackle specific weaknesses such as problems with reading or writing. Our highly motivated colleagues in Turkey have already put together a package of lessons, dubbed the “integration suitcase”, which contains audio and visual materials that are suitable for teaching this particular target group. In addition, Goethe-Institut headquarters has published a pack of materials for this target group entitled “Photobox: Life in Germany”. A very recent addition is the extensive publication “My Language and Germany Companion”, which contains language material and general information about Germany, covering key everyday issues – from health to the environment – and is designed above all to motivate immigrants to continue with their learning even after they have taken the test.
How is the new target group different from previous Goethe-Institut target groups?
In short, before the new immigration law was introduced the people who came to the international branches of the Goethe-Institut to learn German had an academic background – the so-called elite class who wanted to learn German mainly for professional reasons. The new target group comes to us with every possible learning and educational background, and wishes to integrate permanently into German society.
Are the courses concerned only with teaching language skills?
Initially, it is less a question of language acquisition and more about acquiring the necessary learning strategies. This is something that can be taught particularly well outside Germany because, the classes being homogeneous, the teachers can also use their native tongue. The teachers are often immigrants or remigrants themselves, which makes them ideally suited to teaching culture as they are keen to pass on their experiences in Germany to the course students.
Finally, the courses abroad also serve a social and psychological purpose for the immigrants: on the one hand the courses give them the chance to forge social bonds even while still in their home countries, with the result that the course participants do not feel completely alone when they make the move to Germany. On the other hand, successfully completing the course gives the students the self-confidence they will need when beginning their new lives abroad.
What sort of feedback about the new law are you receiving from the language students?
Just recently we interviewed students attending integration courses in Germany; they all stressed that having acquired language skills abroad helped them a great deal when they arrived in Germany. The vast majority recognize the need to prove a knowledge of German.
What will you be focusing on in future?
It is good to see that the new target group has released an amazing amount of energy at the Goethe-Institut and set numerous projects in motion. Work is underway, for instance, on a comprehensive training manual for the teaching of spouses wishing to join their partners in Germany; it contains a wide variety of example lessons “drawn from and designed for real life”. At a seminar held in Leipzig in December 2009, teachers from 16 Goethe-Institut branches abroad were trained in the area of alphabetization so that more courses can be made available in future to secondary and functional illiterates.
Measures to ensure that the “pre-integration courses” abroad dovetail better with the integration courses in Germany are also being designed.