US students scramble for business German courses

Business English has long been mandatory for would-be German managers, but lately more American students have been enrolling for business German to improve their own job prospects.

US students scramble for business German courses
Photo: DPA

English may still be the lingua franca in the business world, but students like 20-year-old Lisa Sprowls are beginning to believe that learning a bit of German for the workplace will aid them in potential dealings with one of America’s most important trading partners.

“It’s a course that doesn’t teach just grammar or vocabulary,” she says. “This course is really useful and helpful for the future.”

Sprowls, who attends the American University in Washington, DC, is part of a growing trend of economics and business students taking such courses, says Katja Fullard from Germany’s cultural and language advocacy organisation, the Goethe Institute.

“The demand for business German courses is growing continuously,” says Fullard, who runs such courses at the Goethe Institute’s Chicago branch. “The US can’t invest in Germany and foster economic relationships without dealing with the German language.”

Outside of the European Union, the United States is Germany’s biggest trade partner, she points out.

Business German instructor at the American University, Tanja Burton, says her courses are usually full, and she isn’t surprised.

“German is the most spoken language in Europe,” she says. “The students know this. Furthermore Germany plays an important role in the world economy.”

Students seem to be motivated by a need to distinguish themselves in an increasingly brutal job market.

“There are many German companies with offices in America,” student Sprowls says. “If I can speak German and have finished a business German course, it will certainly help me if I apply there.”

Claudia Wurll, Human resources director for German engine mechanical engineering firm Grenzebach, which has offices in Newnan, Georgia, said her company would be thrilled to see more applicants who speak German.

While the company’s official language on site is English, their entire network runs in German, she explains, saying that knowledge of the language helps new employees immensely.

“When I look through applications, German skills are the most important thing to me,” she says. But only 10 percent of applicants can offer this skill, she adds.

“It would certainly be nice if more applicants could speak German,” she says.

Making the effort to learn the language is likely to help even professionals who are already mid-career.

Patent lawyer Warren Zitlau, 42, travels to Germany several times a year to meet with partner firms in Frankfurt, Düsseldorf and Munich, and decided to take up German courses at the Goethe Institute a few years ago.

“Even though I can’t speak much yet, my German colleagues value it so much that I continue to learn German,” he says.

While meetings are generally still held in English, he says that speaking German during short conversations outside the boardroom improves their working relationship.

“German is becoming more and more attractive for Americans,” he says.


Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


What foreign parents in Germany need to know about Sprach-Kitas

Germany has a number of specialised nursery schools that focus primarily on helping children with their German language skills. Here's what foreigners need to know about them.

What foreign parents in Germany need to know about Sprach-Kitas

What even is a Sprach-Kita? 

A “Sprach-Kita”, or Language Kindergarten, is a special type of nursery school that’s been around in Germany since 2016 under the government’s Sprach-Kita Programme. The main aim is to help young children build up their German language skills to a level that will allow them to succeed at school. 

How is this different to a normal Kita or daycare centre?

Unlike most Kindergartens in Germany, Sprach-Kitas employ staff who are specifically trained in language teaching and acquisition. These specialists are paid for through Sprach-Kita Programme funding and help to shape the environment of the nursery school, making it easier for children to develop their German skills in an everyday setting.

The schools also have access to external support and advice on catering to children with language setbacks, and may work closely with parents to encourage further language development at home. 

Since the scheme was set up in 2016, around 7,000 nursery schools have successfully applied for “Sprach-Kita” status and received at least €25,000 funding through the programme. These were mostly Kitas that had already taken in a higher-than-average number of children from foreign backgrounds, such as those in popular migrant or expat areas.

Sprach-Kitas will generally be much more diverse and focus most heavily on children’s language skills, in addition to teaching young kids about cultural inclusivity.  

READ ALSO: ‘Multilingualism is an enrichment, not a deficit’: Raising bilingual kids in Germany

Who are Sprach-Kitas for?

Any young child in Germany is allowed to go to a Sprach-Kita, but the main target audience for these specialised nurseries are the children of foreign parents.

In households where German isn’t the main language spoken, children may struggle to keep up with their classmates at school due to their lower level of German fluency. That could be because the child has two international parents – such as a French mum and an English dad – or because the child has more contact with a parent who doesn’t speak German. 

According to recent statistics, around one in five nursery-age children in Germany doesn’t speak German with their parents at home. That equates to 675,000 children in total. In addition, around 40 percent of nursery school children come from a migrant background. 

Through the Sprach-Kita Programme, government is hoping to help these children integrate at an early age to set them up fully for life in Germany. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The rise in multilingual children in Germany

Do I have to pay for a Sprach-Kita? 

Parents usually have to pay a monthly fee for their child to attend a German nursery school – and the same applies to Sprach-Kitas. The fee structure is generally set by the local government, meaning it can vary widely across different regions of the country.

However, you won’t pay any more (or less) for a Sprach-Kita than you would for an ordinary nursery school. 

Where can I find a Sprach-Kita?

Around one in eight Kindergartens in Germany is currently a Sprach-Kita, meaning they aren’t particularly hard to find.

To look for one near you, the best thing to do is to hop onto the government website and look on this interactive map detailing all of the Sprach-Kitas in Germany. 

Children ride tricycles at a German kindergarten.

Children ride tricycles at a German kindergarten. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/mauritius images / Westend61 / M | Westend61 / Mareen Fischinger

However, partly due to staffing shortages, Kita places in Germany are highly competitive right now – so securing a place may involve getting in touch with a number of them at an early date. 

READ ALSO: How can Germany improve its Kitas amid teacher shortage?

Is there anything else I need to know?

Currently, the funding for the Sprach-Kita Programme is due to end at the end of 2022 – and it’s unclear what the fate of the existing language-focused nursery schools will be after this happens.

Though the three parties of the traffic-light coalition had pledged to extend the scheme in their coalition contract, it appears that the programme was one of the first victims of savage negotiations over next year’s budget.

That means the federal government are now hoping to transfer the responsibility for funding the language support over to the 16 states.  

“Responsibility in the area of daycare for children lies with the states and cannot be permanently financed by federal funding programmes,” a spokeswoman for the Family Ministry told Welt. 

The Ministry for Families has also pledged to make language acquisition a cornerstone of its forthcoming Good Childcare Act, which will see at least €2 billion in federal funding made available for nurseries in 2023 and 2024. 

That could make it possible for existing Sprach-Kitas to remain in place as specialised centres for language support.