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Good knowledge of German results in ‘better pay’ for foreigners

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Good knowledge of German results in ‘better pay’ for foreigners
A classroom for learning German. Is it essential for life in Germany? Photo: DPA

Do you need to have fluent German to live and work in Germany? It's a debate that provokes strong reactions. Now a new study has found strong language skills increase foreigners' chances of being paid more.


The salary of foreigners increases the better their knowledge of German, according to a new study.

Research by the German Economic Institute (IW) found that well-educated migrants with a very high level of German earn just as much money as their peers who are native Germans.

According to the study, a good knowledge of German is therefore a fundamental prerequisite for foreigners to be successful in the labour market. 

"Language skills are the key to successful integration into the German labour market," said Wido Geis-Thöne, author of the study.

The study recommended that Germany should further improve the quality of integration courses and give all migrants access to them. In addition, the range of advanced language courses should be expanded and contact with native speakers, which is important for language competence, promoted.

The research also found that qualified migrants scored better in some German tests than some less well-educated Germans without a migration background – and earned more money. 

The study therefore also recommends that native Germans need educational opportunities in order to improve their literacy skills.

READ ALSO: 6.2 million in Germany 'cannot read or write German properly'

Researcher Geis-Thöne analyzed three different data sets for the study, including the National Education Panel, the Survey of Adult Skills study and the Socio-economic Panel. All three studies query both the participants' knowledge of German and their wages.

Overall, however, the unemployment rate among migrants is significantly higher than for native Germans. 

Of the approximately 2.3 million unemployed people in Germany, almost half come from a migrant background (Migrationshintergrund) According to the official definition, a person has a migrant background if he or she has at least one parent who was not born with German citizenship.

According to the IW study, the higher unemployment of foreigners is largely down to their overall lower language level.

Is German needed?

However, careers experts say that it is still possible to work in Germany without a high level of Germany.

The Local's job coach Chris Pyak recently told how the majority of job openings do not require German language skills.

"I've been analyzing the complete German job market since 2013. The overwhelming number of jobs for professionals with a university degree can be done in English," he said. "Software engineers, data analysts and business developers don't need German."

However, Pyak says that many human resources workers still insist on fluent German language skills. Getting past these departments to speak to the bosses about why you are the ideal candidate for the job is the key to gaining ground in the German workforce.


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