6.2 million in Germany ‘cannot read or write German properly’

Many of our readers will be only too familiar with the struggles of learning German. A new study has shown that these difficulties are by no means limited to tourists and expats.

6.2 million in Germany ‘cannot read or write German properly’
Image: DPA

A newly released study has shown 6.2 million people in Germany – just under eight percent of the total population – cannot read or write properly in German. 

While far-right and anti-immigration parties may lay the blame at the feet of migrants and refugees, native speakers also struggle. 

The study, completed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, found that 52.6 percent of the 6.2 million have German as their mother tongue. 

The remaining 47.4 percent (2.9 million) have a migrant background and have learned another language before German. Just under half of those use German more often than their mother tongue despite the associated difficulties. 

Literacy levels were determined by whether or not participants were able to understand coherent texts, even shorter ones. 

Read: One in five German kids can't read properly when they leave school

A success?

While the figures may seem high, there has been an overall decrease in the number of people with  low-level literacy  living in Germany. 

A similar study completed in 2011 found 7.5 million people with limited reading and writing skills, approximately 1.3 million more than in the current report. 

Federal Education Minister Anja Karliczek (CDU) told DPA that the findings amounted to a “success for our education system”. 

Image: DPA

A hindrance? 

The lack of German language skills didn’t seem to be as much of a hindrance as it may seem. Two thirds of those with low literacy skills are gainfully employed. 

One in five haven’t finished high school, while two in five have not gone onto further education. 

The study is entitled ‘Living With Low Literacy’ and will be released publicly in Berlin this Tuesday. The study looked at 7,200 German-speaking adults between the ages of 18 and 64 and research took place in the summer of 2018. 

German vocabulary

Living With Low Literacy – Leben mit geringer Literalität

mother tongue – Muttersprache

migration background – Migrationshintergrund

difficulties with writing – Schreibschwierigkeiten

We're aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Do you have any suggestions? Let us know

p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica; min-height: 14.0px}
p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica}

Member comments

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


The new German words that perfectly describe the coronavirus pandemic

From Impfneid (vaccine envy) to Abstandbier (socially distanced beer), these words are so hot right now.

The new German words that perfectly describe the coronavirus pandemic

It’s often said that the Germans have a word for everything – and that’s true in corona times as well. Around 200 new words including Impfneid (vaccine envy) and Abstandbier (socially distanced beer) have been added to a list of new words by the Leibniz Institute for the German language.

1. When it’s all become too much.

For those feeling overwhelmed by the year-long pandemic, there is Coronaangst (Corona anxiety), coronamüde (corona tired) or überzoom (too much zoom).

2. Love in the time of corona

If you have a specific cuddle partner, they are your Kuschelkontact (cuddle contact). More bleakly, Todesküsschen (little kiss of death) has became synonymous with a friendly kiss on the cheek.

3. Keeping your distance from everybody

The term Babyelefant is now a common concept for anyone living in Austria, where we are urged to keep a “baby elephant’s” distance from one another.

A CoronaFußgruß (corona foot greeting) has replaced the traditional handshake upon meeting people. 

4. Panic at the start of the first lockdown

The process of the pandemic can be tracked through new words emerging. At the beginning of lockdown last March, the word Hamsteritis (hamster buying) was widely used, referring to panic buying as similar to a hamster filling its cheeks with food to eat later.

Added to that was Klopapierhysterie, or hysteria over toilet paper running about.

5. Balcony entertainment

As people began singing from their balconies during the spring lockdown, the word Balkonsänger (balcony singer) came into use, along with Balkonklatscher (balcony clapper) Balkonkonzert (balcony concert) and of course Balkonmusik (balcony music).

6. Watching sport during the pandemic

You might want to try out an Abstandsjubeltanz, loosely translated as a socially distanced choreographed dance when celebrating your football team’s win.

7. Mask wearing

The Germans have adopted the British term Covidiot, but have a more specific word of Maskentrottel (mask idiot), for someone who wears their face covering under their nose. A mask worn this way can also be described as a Kinnwärmer or chin warmer.

A mask worn correctly is sometimes referred to as a Gesichtskondom (face condom).

8. Waiting forever for a vaccine

Germany and the EU’s slow vaccine rollout has led to many experiencing Impfneid or vaccine envy as other countries race ahead in vaccinating their citizens. 

The words were found by the team of researchers by combing through press reports, social media and the wider internet.

You can find the whole list of new words here