German word of the day: Der Bildungsurlaub

If you work in Germany, this is a word you need to know.

German word of the day: Der Bildungsurlaub
Photo: DPA

Bildungsurlaub is a word that can be misleading. It translates literally as “education holiday”.

While it might sound to some like a holiday from education, it actually means something completely different: A Bildungsurlaub is a paid holiday used for further education, so perhaps a better translation is “education leave”.

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The concept has existed since 1974, with every state in Germany having its own law for a Bildungsurlaub. As an example of this, I’ll talk about Lower Saxony. The legal duration of a Bildungsurlaub in this state is five days a year.

The type of training people can do during a Bildungsurlaub varies but it is typically things like language courses. The website gives more information on what the leave can be used for.

A heads up, though: Bavaria and Saxony don’t offer a Bildungsurlaub for any of their employees.

If you’re taking a Bildungsurlaub, you have the possibility of attending certain seminars, but also to organize the training yourself, according to the laws.

Unfortunately, some people take the word Urlaub (“holiday”) too seriously and don’t really do much in their time out of the office. That’s why Bildungsurlaub is also called Bildungsfreistellung (“education exemption”), to avoid the impression that it's a vacation for fun.

You have to do some training on a Bildungsurlaub. Photo: DPA

While about 50 percent of all employees in a state are allowed to take Bildungsurlaub every year, the actual numbers are much, much lower: According to the press office of Bremen’s senate, only about three percent of all the employees in Bremen actually take their entitled Bildungsurlaub.


Nächste Woche bin ich nicht im Büro, da bin ich im Bildungsurlaub.

I won’t be at the office next week, as I am taking my educational leave.

Viel mehr Leute könnten ihren Bildungsurlaub wahrnehmen.

Many more people could take education leave.

Ich sollte meinen BIldungsurlaub wahrnehmen.

I should use my right to education leave.

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German phrase of the day: Es ist noch kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen

Anyone struggling with learning German (or any big skill) could use this popular piece of reassurance.

German phrase of the day: Es ist noch kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen

Why do I need to know this?

If you’re getting down on yourself for not doing something you are still learning just right – be it playing the piano or speaking German – you can gently comfort yourself with this phrase. Or you can confidently cite it to reassure your perfectionist friend or family member that they are indeed making great strides towards their goal.

What does it mean?

Literally translated as “There is still no master which has fallen from the sky,” the expression gets the idea across that no one is born – or comes pummeling down from the heavens – as an expert at something.

Rather they become a Meister (or at least halfway decent) through continuous hard work and discipline. 

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The saying is similar to the also widely used “Übung macht den Meister” (Practice makes the master) or the English version: Practice makes perfect. 

Not surprisingly, Germans – who pride themselves on industriously reaching their goals – have several other equivalent sayings. They include “Ohne Fleiß kein Preis” (There’s no prize without hard work) and “Von nichts kommt nichts” (Nothing comes out of nothing).

Where does it come from?

The popular phrase can be traced back to the Latin “Nemo magister natus”, or no one is born a master. Another version is “Nemo nascitur artifex” or no one is born an artist. This explains why so many languages have similar expressions.

What are some examples of how it’s used?

Sei nicht so streng mit dir selbst. Es ist noch kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen.

Don’t be so hard on yourself. No one is born perfect. 

Mein Trainer sagte, es sei noch kein perfekter Schwimmer vom Himmel gefallen.

My coach said that no one is born a perfect swimmer.

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