Integration Courses and Certificates

The integration course is both obligation and opportunity for immigrants – interviews from our integration courses

Photo: Anja Schwab

The German Immigration Act came into force on 1 January 2005. Since then, many new immigrants have taken integration courses to learn German. Now, asylum seekers and refugees are also required to go back to school after arriving in Germany.

Thanida (30) is from Thailand and moved to Cologne to join her German husband. Pawel (23) came to Germany with his girlfriend because he wants to train as a police officer in Berlin. Federico (41) grew up in Argentina as the child of a German father and is now in Berlin to get to know the homeland of his family. All three of them attend an integration course where they are learning German from the bottom up. How do I introduce myself? How do I fill in a form at an agency? How do I explain to a physician where it hurts? How do I react during a teacher conference when I’m told my daughter is having problems at school? How can I come into contact with people of similar interests, say in sport courses? And how do I write a job application?

Learning German – not just for work

New immigrants to Germany have had the opportunity to attend integration courses since 1 January 2005. The lessons are devised so that the newcomers can take part in everyday life in the German language; so they can literally have a say. “I don’t just need German for work, but also so that I can listen to the radio or watch television. In addition, German is the language of my family, but I don’t speak it. That’s why I’m grateful that the job centre is paying for my course even though I haven’t even begun paying taxes here yet,” says Federico. For Pawel, the classroom at the language school is too small and the acoustics are not good. Yet he still enjoys the integration course, because he’s not only learning German, but also a lot about the educational system here. And Thanida is very happy that she can get to know people from around the world at her integration course; it makes her feel less alone in her new country.

But not all immigrants take the integration course voluntarily. Those who are pursuing neither work nor study are obliged to participate in accordance with the Residence Act. “Most of our participants are very motivated. But of course there are also immigrants who’ve lived a long time in Germany and for whom learning is quite difficult because they started out on the wrong foot,” says Ingo Schöningh. He is director of the Goethe-Institut in Mannheim, which – alongside adult education centres and private language schools – is one of many course providers offering integration courses. An integration course usually includes 600 hours of language lessons and a 60-hour orientation course, in which participants learn about German history, society and culture. Most of the courses are financed by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). Participants usually pay a share in the costs of 1.95 euros per hour.

Integration courses – now also for refugees

Integration courses are aimed at people who want to live in Germany permanently and have a residence permit. Since October 2015, asylum seekers with good perspectives to stay may also take part. “So far, refugees had the opportunity to learn in special courses that are funded by the Federal Employment Agency. These courses were a great success because many of refugees, due to their biographies, are naturally highly motivated and learn very quickly. From September we expect far more refugees to take part in the regular integration courses,” says Ingo Schöningh. And Benjamin Beckmann from the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees emphasizes that, “Refugees with a good perspective to stay would have been approved to take part in an integration course anyway sooner or later. Because of the large numbers of protection beneficiaries, however, their being able to take part a bit earlier has a very major impact on the present numbers of students.” Since the launch of the integration courses in 2005 more than 1.3 million people have attended an integration course. Between 2012 and 2015 the number rose from 94,000 to 180,000 and another increase is anticipated for 2016. While until last year most participants came from European countries such as Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, Syria is now the number one country of origin of integration course participants.

26-year-old Cemal and 35-year-old Anas D. also fled the war in Syria. Because they were not able to attend a regular integration course, they completed a course by the Federal Employment Agency at the Goethe-Institut Mannheim. Both have been in Germany for seven months and were grateful for this opportunity to attend a German course. “Our teacher can explain very well and we learned a lot. The course exercises and discussions were helpful and we also spoke German in our spare time, for example when we went to the café together,” says Cemal. Anas explains, “We were familiar with the Goethe-Institut from the Arab countries and it was my first choice for learning German. It’s just a pity that I cannot take an evening course here.” Cemal already has a place to study IT management at a private university in a study programme that was launched especially for refugees. And Anas has a job as an administrative assistant at the German Red Cross in Mannheim and hopes to get an MBA next year.

Anas S. (24), Munir (36) and Ahmad (42) are also refugees from Syria who attend integration courses in and near Berlin. All three were required to learn German here by the job centre and they stress that they think it is a good and proper thing. Ahmed says, “When the teacher explains well, learning is fun and you look forward to going to class every day.” Munir emphasizes, “Although I already had a job as a cook at a hotel where I could communicate in English, who knows if I will still be working there in three years. I live in Germany, so I need to learn the language. I hope to one day be so good at it that I can read Goethe’s books in German.” Munir lives in a very remote refugee accommodation where he has little contact with Germans and has to take a bus for over an hour each way to attend the course. He therefore hopes to soon find a flat closer to the course. Anas has almost finished his integration course and reports, “The lessons were really good for me. I was able to improve my speaking skills, grammar and vocabulary.” He is only disappointed that the integration course ended at level B1, saying, “I still have so many ideas and thoughts that I am unable to express in German, so I am trying to get into a B2 and C1 university course to later begin studying.”

Of course, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees is also looking for ways for people to continue learning. In order to optimally incorporate the integration courses in other existing language programmes and to seamlessly combine all of these programmes, the Federal government has established an overall language programme. On behalf of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, the Goethe-Institut is presently reviewing the framework curriculum of integration courses to enable optimum transition to job-related language support.


The interviews were conducted by Janna Degener and Max Böhner.

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