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IMMIGRATION

Are these the best German cities to learn a foreign language?

Germany has a wealth of multicultural cities - but which are the best for immersing yourself in a foreign language? Here's what a new study has to say.

Düsseldorf
Düsseldorf city centre. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/engel.ac - stock.adobe.com | Peter Cremer Holding GmbH & Co.

When learning a new language, there’s no better way to improve than to by immersing yourself in the culture and chatting with native speakers. That means that places with huge expat communities can be great places to pick up another language or brush up your skills.

So, where in Germany can you find the most languages spoken – and the most opportunities to practice them?

According to a new study by language learning app Preply, Düsseldorf and Frankfurt am Main are the German cities that offer the best opportunities for language learners and foreign language speakers in the country.

The study analysed data from 16 major German cities, including the number of foreign language speakers, the number of multilingual facilities (restaurants, grocery shops, community centres, etc.) on offer and the number of language schools available in each city, as well as their average rating. 

Surprisingly, Germany’s highly multicultural capital, Berlin, failed to top the list for 2022. 

READ ALSO: The best ways to improve your German for free

Instead, Germany’s banking metropolis Frankfurt am Main and Germany’s fashion and media city, Düsseldorf, both came in top due to the sheer diversity of their populations and the size of their expat communities. 

In particular, Frankfurt boasts not only the third highest number of foreign language speakers per capita, but also the highest number of foreign language institutions such as restaurants, community centres, and local shops. 

Meanwhile, Düsseldorf achieved second place for the number of foreign-language establishments on offer and fifth place for the number of foreign-language speakers per capita. 

Berlin ranks at a still respectable fourth place overall among the cultural hotspots by dint of having the fourth highest number of foreign speakers per capita. However, researchers found that there was a dearth of foreign-language businesses and facilities available to language learners.

With only 154 local institutions per 100,000 inhabitants, Berlin only makes it to 7th place in this category.

The other top 10 cultural hotspots include Munich, Stuttgart, Mainz, Potsdam, Hanover, Hamburg and Saarbrücken, while Dresden and Rostock share tenth place.

Expat communities

Though neither cities have the most foreign-language speakers per capita, Frankfurt am Main and Düsseldorf both boast some of the largest language-specific expat communities in the country.

Both are the top hotspots for three of the most-spoken foreign languages in Germany: Frankfurt is top for Italian, Turkish and Austrian-German, while Düsseldorf takes the top spot for Polish, Greek and Dutch.

Apart from the fact that both cities have the largest selection of foreign language facilities and a high number of foreign-language speakers, Frankfurt and Düsseldorf also scored highly for their impressive range of language schools. 

READ ALSO: Is Frankfurt a good place for foreigners to live?

Frankfurt am Main skyline

The Frankfurt skyline. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hannes P Albert

While Frankfurt offers the largest selection of language schools per capita in Germany, Düsseldorf has the third highest number. However, language schools in Düsseldorf received the most glowing reviews from students, with an average score of 4.56 points compared to Frankfurt’s 4.47. 

Looking at the top three cultural hotspots per language, Stuttgart also stood out as a multicultural centre, with among the largest populations of Greek, Italian, Turkish, Romanian and Croatian speakers in the country.

Other frontrunners include Potsdam and Munich, which also boast large expat communities who speak one of the top foreign languages in Germany

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LEARNING GERMAN

EXPLAINED: Who is entitled to free language lessons in Germany?

Learning German can be a struggle, but did you know that some groups are entitled to take language and integration courses for free? Here's what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: Who is entitled to free language lessons in Germany?

It’s in everyone’s interest that people living in Germany are able to speak the language.

Though German has a reputation for being difficult (just check out all the different words they have for “the”!), being proficient can open up doors to new career opportunities, help you make friends and generally make living here that little bit easier.

Sometimes, however, the cost of taking a language course can be a major barrier. That’s why it’s important to know whether you or your family may actually be entitled to take a heavily subsidised or free German course.

Here are the main groups of people who can take free German classes in Germany, and some other options for those who aren’t eligible. 

READ ALSO: How I stopped worrying and learned German in six months

Asylum seekers and refugees 

Even before asylum seekers have received a verdict on their application, they are entitled to take what’s known as an Erstorientierungskurs: a course of initial orientation. This free course can help them get to grips with the basics of the language and day-to-day life in Germany, including modules on housing, work, shopping, transport, and health.

Once an application for asylum is accepted, refugees are granted a free place on an integration course (Integrationskurs) to help improve their language level further and understand more about German life and culture. 

Nearby courses can be found through the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) website. Refugees and migrants normally have to receive a permit (or “Berechtigungsschein”) to attend the course via the Foreigner’s Office. 

It’s worth noting that most migrants – even if they are not refugees – are entitled to take integration courses through BAMF, but they generally have to pay for them. 

READ ALSO: The 5 best free apps for learning German for all levels

Jobseekers 

Long-term unemployed people who are receiving Hartz IV (or Arbeitslosengeld II) can usually take German language and integration courses funded by the Jobcenter. 

In some cases, the Jobcenter will also provide expenses for travel to and from the language school. Unemployed people who want to take a language course should speak to their advisor to find out the options available and how to sign up for a course. 

You can also find a list of German courses financed by the Federal Employment Agency on the Kursnet Arbeitsagentur website. These include different language levels, integration courses, and special courses known as ‘German for Professional Purposes’ (ESF-BAMF), which are designed to equip you for working in Germany. 

Jobcenter in Düsseldorf

The Jobcenter in Düsseldorf. Unemployed people can get free German lessons in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Berg

Ethnic German Resettlers 

German law entitles ethnic German resettlers and their families (spouse and children) to attend an integration course free of charge. Like jobseekers, this group of people can also apply to have their travel costs to and from the language school reimbursed by the state.

The best way to sign up to a course is to find your nearest school on the BAMF website and consult with the school directly about your eligibility for funding. They should be able to advise you further about your rights. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to pick the right German language school for you

Prospective and current students

German universities generally require evidence of C1 language skills when admitting students from non-German speaking countries into their courses. Some prospective students will need to take the TestDaF exam as proof of their language schools, and can occasionally find exam preparation courses for free. To find a list of schools in your area, it’s best to look on the Fachverband für Deutsch als Fremd- und Zweitsprache (German as a Foreign or Second Language Association) website.

Refugees are also usually eligible to take language courses in preparation for university study for free, which are often funded by schemes such NRWege (Paths to Studying) in North Rhine-Westphalia. 

Most universities also offer free-of-charge language courses for students already taking a university course in another language. To find out about these, it’s best to consult the language centre of your university or college directly. 

Children and young people

As part of their general education in German, children from migrant backgrounds receive special support in mastering the German language. This can start as early as kindergarten and carry on alongside their studies as primary and secondary school, with tests along the way to keep track of progress. 

Once children have finished school, they may be entitled to a free place on an integration course for young people, which can once again be booked through BAMF.

Young children learn German at a primary school in Bavaria.

Young children learn German at a primary school in Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Armin Weigel

There are also various charitable organisations in Germany that provide funding for language courses, such as the Otto Benecke Stiftung e.V. Higher Education Guarantee Fund, which is aimed at young people from a migrant background.

Though the Higher Education Guarantee Fund, young migrants can not only have their qualifications recognised or receive support to access higher education, but can also gain access to free German classes if their language skills need improvement. 

Other options

If you don’t fit into any of the above groups, don’t despair: there are still plenty of options for learning German for free or on a budget in Germany.

In some cases, your employer may be willing to fund you to attend a German course as part of your professional development. Otherwise, you can find plenty of free online courses such as Ich Will Deutsch Lernen, Deutsch Akademie and the Goethe Institute. For a great list of self-study resources, check out the RU Geld website, or check out our article below on the best ways to learn German for free:

The best ways to improve your German for free

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