German word of the day: Das Abitur

Our word of the day relates to a popular news story about German students launching petitions over their 'too difficult' maths exam. Let us fill you in on the Abi.

German word of the day: Das Abitur
Quiet please! Photo: DPA

As The Local reported, tens of thousands of German students have been protesting this week against their mathematics Abitur. But what exactly is an “Abitur”?  You have come to the right place.

SEE ALSO: Thousands of German students protest against maths exam deemed too difficult

The Abitur is a national set of exams for German students who are leaving secondary school for university.

These exams usually take place in May and mark the end of school for students.

For many pupils, they are very important. That is because the average grade of all the combined exams determines whether or not  you get accepted to your dream university course. Hence, an Abitur can shape future careers.

In England, an Abitur can be translated into “A-Levels”, because it is a similar concept. Abitur can also be called “high school certificate,” as it shows that you have finished high school and can go to university, an even higher school, basically.

Or, if you want to keep it very simple, just call them “final exams” – most people in Germany will know what you mean.

Photo: DPA

The word Abitur comes from the Latin word abire, which means “to leave” and from the Latin word abiturire, which means “wanting to depart.” Before the late 19th century, the final exams have been called Abiturium. Ever since then, the word has gone through different abbreviating processes – today the word Abitur is the most common amongst non-students. Most students simply call it Abi.

The Abitur in Germany varies from state to state.  It can, therefore, lead to questions over the difficulty levels in different regions. Some people say the Abitur is more difficult in Bavaria and Saxony, for example, and it's not so hard in Hamburg and Berlin.

We don't know if that's true, but it's fair to say the Abitur system has a lot of critics.

And, if you ask the German students who've been signing petitions this week, they are certainly not in favour of this year's maths Abitur.


Hast du dein Abitur bestanden?

Did you pass your final exams?

Was willst du nach dem Abitur machen?

What do you want to do after your final exams?

Mein Abitur hat mich in eine Lebenskrise gestürzt.

My final exams caused a personal life crisis.

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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. 

READ ALSO: 12 colourful German expressions that will add swagger to your language skills

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.

READ ALSO: Six German expressions to entice your Wanderlust