Language biographies of foreign students

Deutschland ist als Studienstandort bei vielen Schulabsolventinnen und -absolventen aus dem Ausland beliebt. © Syda Productions – Adobe Stock

Where and how do foreign students acquire their German language skills before embarking on a course of study in Germany? And which entrance exams do foreign students have to take before being admitted to university in Germany? A study conducted in collaboration with CHE Consult has the answers.

Young people around the world are keen to study in Germany: the growing number of foreign students is testimony to the outstanding reputation enjoyed by Germany’s higher education system and universities – and also underlines how important German as a foreign language is when it comes to career advancement. But when and where do students from abroad acquire the necessary German language skills?

This question was the focus of “Language Biographies of Foreign Students Engaged in a Full Course of Study at German Universities”, a study conducted by the Goethe-Institut and CHE Consult. It provides important insights into the educational biographies of young people with respect to learning German. Nearly half of the foreigners studying in Germany first come into contact with the German language at school. However, the study also shows that school alone is not enough for those young people learning German. More than 90 percent of them seek to improve their language skills outside the school setting before commencing a course of study in Germany: particularly by taking language courses offered by the Goethe-Institut or other private language schools, but also for example by working for a time as an au-pair or taking part in a youth exchange programme.

Another central finding is that a disproportionately large number of students from abroad choose to study science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) in Germany. This is an important factor, especially given the shortage of skilled workers and international trade links of an export nation like Germany.

Furthermore, this representative survey of foreign students showed that only a minority currently begin a course of study in Germany immediately upon leaving school. Almost 60 percent have already studied abroad or attended a preparatory college.

In providing these insights, the Goethe-Institut wishes to contribute to the discussion of how German learning abroad could be even better promoted so as to support people in shaping their educational biographies and opening up new paths and prospects for them.